Disparaging creationism violates the First Amendment

I had never heard of James Corbett until today, when I read a letter he wrote in response to a judge finding him guilty of violating the First Amendment by speaking his mind. I know it sounds as though I wrote that wrong, but apparently disparaging creationism during class time is a big no-no in America. Corbett was sued by one of his students, and lost in a federal court that found he had violated the Establishment Cause of the Constitution by saying creationism is “religious, superstitious nonsense”.

I decided to read up on the history of the First Amendment to see if there were other instances of unfair rulings concerning freedom of speech issues, and was shocked to see how often the US government has created laws which utterly violate its spirit. During the 1800s, for example, the government created the ‘Sedition Act’, which made it a crime to disparage or spread scandalous writing against the government or any of its officials. They also created the ‘Alien Enemies Act’ which allowed them to detain any resident aliens if their home countries were at war with America. The Sedition Act expired in 1801. The Alien Enemies Act is still in effect today.

The particular precedent that found Mr. Corbett guilty was the ‘Lemon Test’, based on a case in 1968 which found that reimbursing the salaries, textbook cost and instruction materials for Catholic schools violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment (making the establishment of any religion unconstitutional). The precise requirements of the test include:

1. The government’s action must have a secular legislative purpose;
2. The government’s action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
3. The government’s action must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion.

The courts now see this as applying also to any disparaging comments made AGAINST religion. The student who sued James Corbett had said, according to the court transcript, a “religion of secularism” was being promoted by Corbett, and that is was what violated the Establishment Clause. This clever twist is what made his statements unconstitutional, apparently.

The problem here is James was not promoting a religion at all. He was challenging the claims made by Christianity in the realms of science and morality, something the First Amendment is supposed to defend. The fact his student, Chad Farnan, was offended by the statement that creationism is “religious, superstitious nonsense” is unimportant. Corbett was making a factual claim. Although there will be some who think his statements were only meant to be offensive, the truth of the matter is creationism is nothing more than an incorrect and childish interpretation of the material world. There is no question it is religious in nature, and any statement as to its nonsense is an invitation of proof by those making the supposed factual claim.

Atheism is not a ‘secular religion’, and as such any statements made in regard to gods should entirely be protected under the Establishment Clause in the Constitution. This uncomfortable fact has unnerved the religious right, as they now see the threat posed by secularism in schools. They will continue to insist their superstitious beliefs be respected, despite the fact there is no reason to give them any special treatment. How would the courts have reacted to Corbett stating Zeus was simply a fictional character, and whose mythology was simply superstitious nonsense? Not too seriously, I imagine.

Corbett wrote a response to the whole affair here. I recommend reading it.

Comments (2)

  • avatar

    LB

    Just one more reason why I’ll never live in the USA

  • avatar

    Ryan

    This is what happens when you have a constitution, like the US does, that makes all rights _absolute_. Contrast that with Canada, whose constitution expressly allows for “reasonable” infringement of rights.

    Jake, you’ll be happy to know that Canada’s Charter right of “freedom of religion” also includes “freedom from religion”. However, you’ll be unhappy to know that the 1867 constitution requires the government to establish/fund/support a Catholic school system. Buuuurn!

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