Public school teacher who called creationism 'superstitious nonsense' protected from lawsuit

“Aristotle … argued, you know, there sort of has to be a God. Of course that’s nonsense. I mean, that’s what you call deductive reasoning, you know. And you hear it all the time with people who say, ‘Well, if all this stuff that makes up the universe is here, something must have created it.’ Faulty logic. Very faulty logic. The other possibility is, it’s always been there.… Your call as to which one of those notions is scientific and which one is magic.... All I’m saying is that, you know, the people who want to make the argument that God did it, there is as much evidence that God did it as there is that there is a giant spaghetti monster living behind the moon who did it."

Those were the words of Dr. James Corbett, a history teacher at an Orange County, California public high school, in a 2007 lecture. His comments led to one of the student filing lawsuit claiming that Corbett violated the First Amendment's establishment clause pronouncing that the government must be neutral with regard to religion. Last week though, the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the case. From The Christian Science Monitor:

As part of its ruling, the appeals court vacated a district judge’s earlier decision that the teacher, Dr. James Corbett, violated the establishment clause in a comment he made in class that creationism was “superstitious nonsense.”

The appeals court side-stepped the question of whether Dr. Corbett’s comment on creationism and other derogatory remarks about religious faith were unconstitutional. Instead, the panel concluded that since Corbett was entitled to qualified immunity it was not necessary for the appeals court to determine whether his comments actually violated the Constitution.

“In broaching controversial issues like religion, teachers must be sensitive to students’ personal beliefs and take care not to abuse their positions of authority,” Judge (Raymond) Fisher wrote.

“But teachers must also be given leeway to challenge students to foster critical thinking skills and develop their analytical abilities,” he said. “This balance is hard to achieve, and we must be careful not to curb intellectual freedom by imposing dogmatic restrictions.”

"US judges rule for teacher who called creationism 'superstitious nonsense'" (Thanks, Bob Pescovitz!)