Should a teacher be sued for describing creationism as “superstitious nonsense”?

Steven Newton has an interesting piece on the case of James Corbett, who was sued for “improper disapproval of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.

In 2009, a judge considered Corbett’s statements and found only one — that creationism is “superstitious nonsense” — to be an “improper disapproval of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause,” and therefore an infringement of the student’s rights. To the amazement of educators and scientists across the country, the court ruled against Corbett and found this one statement in class to have been unconstitutional.

One issue raised by this case is how far educators should modify class content to anticipate potential offense to the faith of their students.

I feel a chill running up and down my spine. And not in a good way.

Have a look at the original piece.

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18 Responses to Should a teacher be sued for describing creationism as “superstitious nonsense”?

  1. Noah the epistemic pinata says:

    Good to see you posting on FTB!

    One of the “science has been proven wrong before so it isn’t trustworthy” comments under the linked article upset me so much that I registered a Huffington Post account.

    It reminded me of the English Lit major who once wrote a letter to Isaac Asimov, prompting his essay, “The Relativity of Wrong.” I don’t know why I let myself get bothered by posts that are, in the words of Michael Shermer, “Wronger than Wrong.”

  2. But “nonsense” is an excellent descriptive for things that aren’t even wrong. You have to be in the ballpark of “right” in order to be “wrong” about something, don’t you? The answer to “what color is the sky” is never going to be “three”, so the answer is nonsense. The answer to “what does science say about the universe” is never going to be “read the Bible”, so the answer is nonsense.

  3. david cortesi says:

    So a court ruled that the statement, “creationism is ‘superstitious nonsense’” is an “improper disapproval of religion.” That seems significant to me. It means that a court has officially ruled that creationism is a religion, or at least is inseparable from religious belief.

    It should be possible to use this decision to definitively rule creationism out of classrooms everywhere. A court says it’s religion, not science.

    • Greg Laden says:

      David, that has been done. The Dover ruling relied on an earlier court ruling that creationism is religion. The Dover court merely had to rule that ID is creationism.

      The case law on not teaching creationism is SOLID. But we live in a society where if the law is in opposition to what the right wing wants, they just defy the law, and even go so far as to run for office on that basis.

  4. Creationism IS rightfully superstitious nonsense. The teacher who said it should not be sued!

  5. Pingback: Greg’s Bloggy Newsletter | The X Blog

  6. lordshipmayhem says:

    The person who should be sued should be the student for trying to introduce religion into a science classroom, under the “separation of church and state” concept.

    • Greg Laden says:

      Exactly.

    • Noah the epistemic pinata says:

      The context here involves a biology teacher who introduced creationism to the biology class, not a student. This teacher is John E. Peloza, who you can read about on the talk.origins website.

      Peloza took the school to court for forcing him to teach evolution. Peloza lost his case, but according to Corbett, Peloza continued to promote creationism at school.

      Corbett was not and is not teaching biology. He teaches social science, and if the case evidence is anything to go by, he regularly makes comments in his classes about the negative affects that religion has had on European society in his A.P. History classes. These statements, however, were not considered a problem by the first court.

      There seems to be some animosity between these two teachers, the creationist biology teacher and the atheist history teacher. As I understand it, Corbett made one specific comment in reference to Peloza’s creationist leanings and Peloza assisted a student in making a case against Corbett.

      What I don’t understand is why nobody is taking Peloza to court for promoting creationism in the school newspaper.

      • Noah the epistemic pinata says:

        Actually, I recommend reading that whole talk.origins link so that you can see what Corbett deals with at work. Beyond students taping and editing his lectures and private conversations without his consent, anyway. And suing him.

  7. As the article points out. This ruling was overturned and James Corbett has been vindicated. http://ncse.com/news/2011/08/vindication-corbett-006835

    • Greg Laden says:

      Tim, as does the piece to which I linked originally.

      • annp says:

        And it’s instructive to look at why the Appeals Court reversed the ruling.

        “We are aware of no prior case holding that a teacher violated the establishment clause by appearing critical of religion during class lectures, nor any case with sufficiently similar facts to give a teacher ‘fair warning’ that such conduct was unlawful,” Judge Raymond Fisher wrote for the court.”

        This ruling does not establish a ‘bright line’ between protected and unprotected speech. The judge only allows that no successful lawsuit has established that a critique of religion is a First Amendment violation. Corbett’s speech wasn’t protected; *Corbett* was protected because of qualified immunity, saying essentially that Corbett may have crossed a line, but if he did, it’s because we still don’t know where the line is, exactly.

        These rulings and reversals are fairly common between lower courts and appeals courts. The dance usually begins with something like, “There oughta be a law…”, and then it bumps up against, “Do we need a law if we already have a right?” And then that gets hits on the head with, “But if we make a law, doesn’t that, in a way, reduce the right? Because at best a law is redundant…” And then the killer blow, “Let’s imagine for a second that the topic involved isn’t religion. Would we even be having this discussion?”

  8. r2d3 says:

    And should a teacher be sued for describing evolution as “superstitious nonsense” or a religion?

    http://www.trueorigin.org/evomyth03.asp

    [snip]

    In May 2000, Michael Ruse (philosopher of science) wrote: “Evolution is promoted by its practitioners as more than mere science. Evolution is promulgated as an ideology, a secular religion–a full-fledged alternative to Christianity, with meaning and morality. I am an ardent evolutionist and an ex-Christian, but I must admit that in this one complaint–and Mr. Gish is but one of many to make it–the literalists are absolutely right. Evolution is a religion. This was true of evolution in the beginning, and it is true of evolution still today.”

    If religion cannot be taught in science classes, why is evolution taught in science classes?

    Ruse, M., “How evolution became a religion: creationists correct? Darwinians wrongly mix science with morality, politics”, National Post, pp. B1, B3, B7 (May 13, 2000)

    http://www.omniology.com/HowEvolutionBecameReligion.html
    http://www.leaderu.com/real/ri9404/ruse.html
    http://www.arn.org/docs/orpages/or151/mr93tran.htm

    • Anat says:

      Evolution is taught in science class because it is a central scientific theory, the key to the understanding of how life became as diverse as it is and how living organisms came to be the way they are. It is the best explanation we have accounting for our observations about what living organisms share and the nested hierarchical fashion in which they differ from each other.

      Evolution has implication for religion the same way that heliocentrism or the germ theory of disease have implications for religion. These scientific theories disprove certain religious claims and require the religious to either insist on self-delusion, modify their theology in a way that gives their god(s)/ess(es) less of a role in the running of the universe or realize the deities of their choice aren’t that different from something that does not exist at all. Evolution belongs in science class just like all the other god-diminishing theories – the theory of gravity, the theory of electro-magneticism, germ theory and the rest.

    • annp says:

      Evolution is promulgated as an ideology, a secular religion.

      That’s a ridiculous statement. A secular religion? What’s that?

      a full-fledged alternative to Christianity, with meaning and morality.

      Oh my. No. This is not Michael Ruse’s finest moment. Keep in mind, when he testified in McLean he had to tell the truth. This looks like a publicity piece for one of his debates with Dembski.

      A secular religion? How can such a broad oxymoron be anything but meaningless?

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