Posted by: Jim | May 15, 2009


An Orange County teacher, right here in my neighborhood, was just found guilty of violating the First Amendment by calling creationism “Superstitious nonsense.”

My reaction may surprise you, and I’m even disagreeing with the venerable PZ Myers, who I quoted below. But I think there are some important reasons why this decision was the right one. Before I get into that, however, let me say that I respect Dr. Corbett for his stance, and completely agree with him in content. There is nothing he’s said that I would blink twice about saying here on my blog. But it’s the context of his statements that make me feel as if the law has done its job by setting fairly reasonable boundaries.

Here’s the thing … even the most correct world view can be guilty of harassment and tyranny. The French Revolution is a great example. They were extremely well-meaning people with extremely forthright principles who ran roughshod over an entire culture. Dr. Corbett, while he is correct in his philosophy, should not have promoted hostility toward any other group—no matter how wrong or silly that group may be. Because—unlike my blog—his classroom represents our government. When looking at cases like this, we shouldn’t weigh the merits of the decision on the basis of how it complements or contradicts our own beliefs. What we should do is weigh the precedent against what would happen if the tables were reversed.

This is Orange County, after all. What would happen if a Creationist teacher said in a classroom that atheists were morons who were just trying to justify their sinful desires? That statement would be the hostile equivalent of what Corbett said, and it should not be tolerated. On the other hand, since this was a classroom, a teacher should never be required to teach creation. It does not hold up under scientific scrutiny, and therefore has no place in secular education. But a teacher should be able to teach evolution without showing hostility to specific cultural or religious groups who do not agree with it. If it were a college classroom, it might be different, but a High School student ostensibly has no choice but to sit in a certain public school and listen to a teacher. Hostility should not be tolerated.

As many have said on this blog, atheists are capable of atrocities. Hopefully that will never happen in our country, due to a set of laws that are pretty good about protecting minorities.



  1. “When looking at cases like this, we shouldn’t weigh the merits of the decision on the basis of how it complements or contradicts our own beliefs. What we should do is weigh the precedent against what would happen if the tables were reversed.”

    Love it.

    I agree with you. Thanks for the thoughts.

  2. “In a December 2007 lawsuit, Farnan, then a sophomore, accused Corbett of repeatedly promoting hostility toward Christians in class and advocating “irreligion over religion” in violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause.
    The establishment clause prohibits the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion” and has been interpreted by U.S. courts to also prohibit government employees from displaying religious hostility.”

    I appreciate the additional interpretation by U.S. courts.

  3. You don’t compare like with like. The fact is that ‘superstitious’ and ‘nonsense’ would both cover what Creationists believe.

    Your reversal is not a reversal, is it? To call atheists people who are justifying their sinful desires is to actually make a specific allusion to the characters of atheists, not to simply comment upon what their belief consists of. If they said that atheists believe in ‘a Godless universe’, which would be a suitable inversion of ‘superstitious nonsense’, I would not see that as necessarily “promoting hostility” as you describe it.

    At some point, if you describe people who are superstitious (like Ted), and who fervently believe in, quite literally, nonsense, then, Jim, how do you describe them? Do you just pass over them? Does it become something that must be given equivalence with the fruits of reason? How can somebody respectfully describe ludicrous beliefs? Even the technical term, ‘delusion’ upsets these people.

    Even the teacher rolling his eyes and clucking could produce a lawsuit if you go down this road.

    Go and read Rumsfeld’s Christian porn for the President for the separation of Church and State at GQ – – puts this story into perspective.

  4. Ida! –

  5. Yeah … I have mixed feelings about Ida. It cracks me up that people call her “The Missing Link.” On one hand, it caters to their ignorance, on the other hand, if it takes an ignorant sound byte to quell another ignorant sound byte (that there is a missing link AT ALL) … well I guess that’s good. LOL

    Regardless, it sure was interesting.

  6. King Felix, I will respond to your other critique … but not until Friday (at least) because my final paper is due tomorrow night and my brain is STRAPPED. I guess that attests to the quality of your criticism. 🙂 But rest assured … I shall rebut!

  7. Kingfelix, the article I like points out that the teacher in question said MANY things against the hypothesis of creation. 90% of them were allowed, but he crossed the line only when he said the words “Superstitious nonsense.”

    My concern is that there is a very delicate but important virtue that must be upheld in publicly funded classrooms. That is: no one should feel it to be a hostile environment. I am NOT saying that creationism should be taught, or that it even warrants mention. If it is brought up by a student, a teach can easily tell them that creationism is not supported by the facts, and so it is therefore not to be brought up. Simple as that. A teacher does not need to deride a student for believing something outside the accepted orthodoxy, however.

    This will not slide down the slippery slope to having tongue-clicking legislation.

    What happens if we allow Christian thought to be derided and openly mocked in the classroom? Christians may regain the majority, and the precedent WE set will be used against us. Of course, they may marginalize us anyway, but we should still set the example and hope it sticks.

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