SANTA ANA, Calif. — A federal judge ruled that a public high school history teacher violated the First Amendment when he called creationism “superstitious nonsense” during a classroom lecture.
U.S. District Judge James Selna ruled Friday in a lawsuit that student Chad Farnan filed in 2007, alleging teacher James Corbett violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment by making repeated comments in class that were hostile to Christian beliefs.
The lawsuit cited more than 20 statements made by Corbett during one day of class, which Farnan recorded, to support allegations of a broader teaching method that “favors irreligion over religion” and made Christian students feel uncomfortable.
During the course of the litigation, the judge found that most of the statements cited in the court papers did not violate the First Amendment because they did not refer directly to religion or were appropriate in the context of the classroom lecture.
But Selna ruled Friday that one comment, where Corbett referred to creationism as “religious, superstitious nonsense,” did violate Farnan’s constitutional rights.
Selna wrote in his ruling that he tried to balance Farnan’s and Corbett’s rights.
“The court’s ruling today reflects the constitutionally permissible need for expansive discussion even if a given topic may be offensive to a particular religion,” the judge wrote.
“The decision also reflects that there are boundaries. … The ruling today protects Farnan, but also protects teachers like Corbett in carrying out their teaching duties.”
Corbett, a 20-year teaching veteran, remains at Capistrano Valley High School.
Farnan is now a junior at the school, but quit Corbett’s Advanced Placement European history class after his teacher made the comments.
Farnan is not interested in monetary damages, said his attorney, Jennifer Monk of the Murrieta-based Christian legal group Advocates for Faith &Freedom.
Instead, he plans to ask the court to prohibit Corbett from making similar comments in the future. Farnan’s family would also like to see the school district offer teacher training and monitor Corbett’s classroom for future violations, Monk said.