Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Court opening door for teachers to ridicule Christians?

'Statements exhibiting some hostility to religion do not violate the Establishment Clause'

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.

(Story continues below...)

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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.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, has noted that such hostility to Christianity is on the rise.

"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.