A three-judge panel of the much-overturned 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California has dismissed a student’s case against a high school teacher who ridiculed his Christian faith in class.
The opinion Friday authored by Judge Ray C. Fisher declared statements “exhibiting some hostility to religion do not violate the Establishment
Clause if the government conduct at issue has a secular purpose, does
not have as its principal or primary effect inhibiting religion and does
not foster excessive government engagement with religion.”
Chad Farnan brought the case in 2007 against history teacher James Corbettt of Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, Calif., citing at least 22 comments by Corbett considered
“derogatory, disparaging, and belittling regarding religion and
Christianity in particular.”
Fisher was joined in his opinion by judges A. Wallace Tashima and Mark L. Wolf.
In the complaint, Farnan says Corbett told his class:
- “When you put on your Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth.”
- “Aristotle was a physicist. … He argued that there sort of has to be a God. Of course that’s nonsense.”
- “How do you get the peasants to oppose something that is in their best interest? Religion. You have to have something that is irrational to counter that rational approach.”
- “People believed before the scientific revolution that the Bible was literal and that anything that happened, God did it. They didn’t understand.”
- “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 … .”
- “What part of the country has the highest murder rate? The South. What part of the country has the highest rape rate? The South. What part of the country has the highest … church attendance? The South. Oh, wait a minute. You mean there is not a correlation between these things?”
- “Well, we know abstinence doesn’t work. And we know one other thing, and that is, once people become sexually active, they often don’t stop for, like, 40 or 50 years. I mean, generally, when you start you don’t, like, have a conversion and try to become re-virginized, you know. It’s not going to happen.”
The judges stated that Corbett “is a Christian who regularly prays and attends church services.”
The ruling said some of the dispute was moot since Farnan has since graduated, but the statements couldn’t be targeted in a lawsuit since the teacher had no “fair warning” that his statements might be improper.
“Teachers must … be given leeway to challenge students to foster critical thinking skills and develop their analytical abilities. … At some point a teacher’s comments on religion might cross the line and rise to the level of unconstitutional hostility. But without any cases illuminating the … demarcation between permissible and impermissible discussion of religion … we cannot conclude that a reasonable teacher standing in Corbett’s shoes would have been on notice that his actions might be unconstitutional.”
Robert Tyler of Advocates for Faith and Freedom, which represented Farnan, told the Orange County Register he would ask the appeals court for a further review or present the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“It’s quite ironic that while the 9th Circuit complains in the decision that the law is unclear as to whether a public school teacher showed hostility in the classroom, it failed to bring clarity when it had the opportunity to do so. Instead of addressing the constitutionality of the case, the court abandoned it,” he said.
The case was launched in 2007 with Farnan was a 15-year-old sophomore. The district court decision agreed with Farnan in 2009 that Corbett’s statements violated the student’s constitutional rights.
But in that same district court ruling, Corbett received qualified immunity from the judge, essentially shielding him from paying Farnan’s attorneys fees or damages.
“I see an environment being created that is hostile to Christianity,” he said shortly after being “disinvited” to speak at Andrews Air Force Base.
“This isn’t about political activity. It’s not about public-policy positions. It really comes down to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. “We’ve seen the circle being drawn smaller and smaller in terms of what’s politically correct.”
In the United Kingdom, a court ruling found that Christians have only a “qualified” right to exercise their Christian beliefs.