When Is It Unconstitutional to Call Nonsense Nonsense?

| 235 Comments

A court in California has ruled that the Establishment Clause was violated by comments a schoolteacher made against certain religious propositions. Ed Brayton has details here. Personally, I’m troubled by the ruling for reasons that First Amendment expert Eugene Volokh explains here.

235 Comments

Interesting comparison with how the law treats voodoo.

Maybe this is splitting hairs, but I think the voodoo-in-law example gives us a way out of this problem. A H.S. law teacher who says “the law considers voodoo such an ineffective means of murder, we don’t even punish it” is making a statement of fact about how the law operates. The same teacher saying “I think voodoo is completely ineffective” is giving an unconstitutional personal opinion.

So, apply the same reasoning to science teachers and creationism. Maybe we can argue that it is completely constitutional for a teacher to say “according to the standards of science, creationism is so completely unsupported and in fact refuted by the evidence, that the scientific community considers it nonsense.” However making a statement like “I think creationism is nonsense” is unconstitutional because the teacher isn’t talking about what science says, he’s talking about what he, the representative of the state, believes.

Like I said though, I’ll totally understand if people think I’m splitting hairs.

This reminds me of the haunted house case my wife was taught in property law and contracts.

I think the Creationists are shooting themselves in the foot.

We now have a clear precedent where a court recognized that someone’s RELIGIOUS freedom was infringed by someone else’s comments regarding CREATIONISM.

That’s a clear tie-in – should the issue of whether or not Creationism should be allowed in public school classrooms ever come up again, this case would just be another nail in the coffin for them.

eric said:

So, apply the same reasoning to science teachers and creationism. Maybe we can argue that it is completely constitutional for a teacher to say “according to the standards of science, creationism is so completely unsupported and in fact refuted by the evidence, that the scientific community considers it nonsense.”

Perhaps it’s better to use, instead of nonsense, “not even wrong,” with an explanation of what that phrase means.

Aaron said:

I think the Creationists are shooting themselves in the foot.

We now have a clear precedent where a court recognized that someone’s RELIGIOUS freedom was infringed by someone else’s comments regarding CREATIONISM.

That’s a clear tie-in – should the issue of whether or not Creationism should be allowed in public school classrooms ever come up again, this case would just be another nail in the coffin for them.

When I read the Ed Brayton link, I thought the exact same thing - but remember that the plaintiffs here (apparently) were the parents of a student that was offended by the teacher’s comments- not the DI - I am curious what the DI’s take will be on the case. Will it be a non-story because the DI “doesn’t endorse the teaching of creationism’? or will they crow because their sympathies (I believe) would be with the plaintiff - or will they be outraged (not bloody likely) because of the censorship being imposed on this teacher’s ‘academic freedom’

IMHO the DI will side with the teacher who was denied a forum for creationism in the school newspaper - they will claim HE is the one being censored -

I love telling people I told you so.

Several months ago, in response to another post by Tim on free speech in public high schools, I said that reducing teachers to mere conveyors of the curriculum was a dangerous doctrine. Many people responded with demonstrably false accusations that I was a pro-ID troll, and one person resorted to behavior that bordered on internet stalking (looking up personal information about me and posting it PT).

The point is that the teacher’s statements should be defended as part of the teacher’s First Amendment (in this case free speech) rights. Unless the speech is disruptive to the educational process, constitutes harassment, or is time/place/age inappropriate, we should err on the side of protecting speech-even in the K-12 classroom. As long as a teacher is not proselytizing or propagandizing, or consistently bringing in controversial material that is completely unrelated to the topic, the teacher should be free to express his views on the subject matter at hand.

Unfortunately, this standard is no longer the case in high schools. To some degree it is in Universities.

At least in Universities, there is no standard of “sensitivity”-though Lord knows many people have tried and are still trying to create and enforce this standard. Even speech that in another setting might be construed as creating a “hostile environment” on the basis of protected characteristics can be protected if the speech is on a matter related to the topic at hand.

This is a very dangerous precedent and I pray it never makes it to higher ed. Given Ed Brayton’s apparent hostility to free speech rights and his desire to subordinate them to the establishment clause, this may give Ed some heartburn. Apparently Tim doesn’t get the free speech in the classroom issue too well either.

The only limit on expressing views about religion should be those where an individual student is being singled out for ridicule or harassment.

The point is that the teacher’s statements should be defended as part of the teacher’s First Amendment (in this case free speech) rights.

If that’s the case then the teacher indicating he believes the creation story of Genesis is an accurate account of the origin of the universe, Earth, life and humans is also protected free speech. I don’t think you actually want that and you can’t have it both ways.

Now, you may wish freedom of speech protected only statements that are true (as you see it), but that pretty much does away with freedom of speech. ‘Error has no right’ might ring a bell and not one to herald happy thoughts.

It’s an awkward case.

In fairness, the teacher did cross the line by telling the kid that the creation story, and possibly his entire religious faith, was “idiotic”.

While, technically, this may be a true statement of fact, it’s also a direct insult to a Christian kid and was out of place in a public classroom. Government shouldn’t advocate religion, but neither should it actively call your religion stupid.

The teacher could have said any of a number of objective things instead, like how creationism is absolutely unsupported by any evidence at all, and in fact, all the evidence points in the other direction.

Sadly, I predict that the subtleties of this case will be instantly lost, and within a week we’ll hear about creationists trying to extend this precedent to any teacher who utters any statement regarding the validity of creationism, no matter how vacuous.

I also predict even more school districts trying to distance themselves completely from any controversy by simply deciding not to mention evolution at all.

I find myself agreeing with the ruling, particularly in the context of his other statements disparaging religion.

Creationism is superstitious nonsense, but that’s a judgment about religion. True or not, the government can’t be endorsing theism, anti-theism, or atheism.

I’m sure he could have easily gotten away with saying that creationism is wholly unsupported by science, and even contrary to science.

I really don’t get the “free speech” aspect when the government is paying the teacher to teach without endorsing or maligning religion. Is there a “free speech” defense to teaching the same children “intelligent design,” provided the teacher is deluded enough to believe that ID is science?

A big problem, in my view, is that the teacher was calling the religion itself “superstition,” which generally has connotations of somehow not being true. Strictly speaking, we can’t even say that creationism is “not true,” since there’s always the Omphalos dodge, let alone can we imply that the religion is “not true”. In most senses of “true,” it is not, but “true” in religious claims is a good deal trickier. And anyway, the Constitution (at least as interpreted presently) forbids paying a teacher to say that the religion is “superstition”. I would hope that if he had merely called it “nonsense” that he would have gotten away with it, because one could always presume that, in such a context, “nonsense” would be defined by the subject(s) being taught, in particular, science.

No, free speech is a right enjoyed by citizens. It does not apply to teachers being paid for teaching creationism/ID, to those in free associations (like science associations) which reject woo like astrology and ID, nor does it apply to teachers putting down a child’s religion at taxpayers’ expense. Stick with, indeed, the First Amendment, neither endorsing nor maligning religion.

Glen Davidson

http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

It wasn’t calling it “nonsense” that the court found wrong. The court found proper a different statement by Corbett about creationism: “It’s not science. Scientifically, it’s nonsense.” The problem seems to have been calling it “religious, superstitious nonsense.” The first statement clearly has a secular purpose of conveying that creationism isn’t science; the second is framed in such a way as to denigrate a religious belief qua religion.

What an utter waste of tax payers money. It will be no surprise if this ruling is overturned during an appeal.

Ed Brayton clearly expressed the problem with this ruling when he wrote. “There is a difference between teaching things that conflict with religion, as any public school must do, and deliberately insulting the religious and claiming that all religion is a fraud believed in by fools.”

Thus the reasoning for my comments.

The point is that in a classroom, students should be up to having their beliefs challenged and questioned. If all the teacher is doing is simply “speaking for the state”, then in essence, the state is just writing the teacher’s lesson plans and compelling speech. This is the direction that the courts have been trending (though they are not **quite** there yet), at least wrt K-12. This is a departure from earlier standards where the school district and the courts had to do a balancing act between the interest of free and open expression of ideas vs. the interest of age and context appropriate speech. In addition, school districts could punish speech that was indicative of gross incompetence. There were also some exceptions for K-12 with respect to speech that advocated communism or Nazism and many teachers have had to sign loyalty oaths-and still do in some states. But the basic doctrine was that with a few exceptions, K-12 was supposed to emulate the kind of free and open discussion of ideas one finds in a University, where historically courts have ruled against imposing or compelling orthodoxy. We are now pretty close to a standard in K-12 where the state can compel “orthodoxy” on the part of the teacher, and that seems to make a significant number of PT’ers happy.

Some of this seems to be motivated by an inappropriate corporate/right wing mentality (I mean right wing as in Ron Paul Libertarian-rather than social conservative right wing). Based on this doctrine, they see the state as having the right as employer to do whatever the hell it wants to do.

Others seem to be motivated by a desire to insure that Creationism/ID cannot be discussed in high schools.

I see it differently. First of all, I think there is a substantial public interest in having free and open discussion of ideas in K-12 (within age appropriate boundaries, reasonable curricular restrictions, and restrictions against proselytizing or harassment). After all, we are educating students not only with specific know how, but also the know how to participate in democratic debate in an ostensibly democratic society. The standard many on PT seem to wish for is to educate them to be good corporate clones-and thus to subordinate education to narrow technocratic instrumentalism while shoving standardized tests and state mandates down students’ and teacher’s throats. It’s a very functional standard for a particular kind of corporate elitism.

The other interest IMO is the free speech rights of public employees and of public school students. The teacher shouldn’t be seen as simply a mouthpiece for the state,chanelling a bulleted point list of politically correct mandates, but as someone who is being hired to help students grow in awareness and critical thinking. So IMO, a teacher does not only have the right, but even the responsibility to tell students that some things are in fact just ignorant nonsense. I wouldn’t hesitate to tell my Cultural Anthropology students that Genesis and the Enuma Elish are both myths, and that neo-Darwinism is science. Nor would I hesitate to tell my students that the belief in a goddess cult of granola eating, peace loving, earth mothering pre-Indo-Europeans is a bunch of new age hooey. Fortunately for me, you people don’t yet run Universities.

If all this means that some high school teacher is allowed to say that he doesn’t agree with evolution, I can live with that-as long as evolution is properly and accurately taught.

Chip Said:, The point is that in a classroom, students should be up to having their beliefs challenged and questioned. If all the teacher is doing is simply “speaking for the state”

Chip, I think you are reading too much into this discussion. These sort of discussions can and do take place, particularly at the high school level, but in other classes. Pt’er focus on good science being taught in science class. If a teacher states or implies that YEC, or OEC, or ID is science, then that is unconstitutional. I agree with others that teachers stating a negative opinion about religion is as bad as promoting religion.

IANAL, but I think the problem with the K-12 venue is that the government compels children to be there. If the government can compel you to be somewhere, they can’t then start making fun of your beliefs (especially religious beliefs), nor especially making fun of you because you believe them. Just as with someone compelled to be in a court room, you can’t have This is unlike at a university, where attendance is voluntary. There, if you don’t like what’s being said, you can walk out; if you don’t like your beliefs challenged, you don’t have to be there. So, in the K-12 venue the government employee has to walk a fine line between saying what is true, without ridiculing any individual or group.

Frank B said:

Chip, I think you are reading too much into this discussion. These sort of discussions can and do take place, particularly at the high school level, but in other classes. Pt’er focus on good science being taught in science class. If a teacher states or implies that YEC, or OEC, or ID is science, then that is unconstitutional. I agree with others that teachers stating a negative opinion about religion is as bad as promoting religion.

I agree that good science should be taught in the science classroom, and good history in the history classroom, etc. I have never argued (despite what I think can only be either the deliberate misrepresentation or lack of reading comprehension of some on PT) that significant classroom time should be devoted to discussions of ID or Creation Science.

Creationism is a word with a pretty specific meaning in our culture: It means a belief that the world is approximately 10,000 yo, that there was a literal flood, that Noah really had two of every “kind” in an arc, etc. The Enuma Elish tells about a war between Tiamat and Marduk, and how Marduk fashioned man out of Tiamat’s blood. It’s a great story-but if you believe that it literally happened than you really do believe in superstitious nonsense.

So let’s say that someone is teaching that The Enuma Elish is literal truth-or that the Great Goddess **literally** enables you to make magic, or that Voodoo curses work, or that God wants you to kill yourself so you can be taken away in a comet. Now, these beliefs are of differing levels of harm. But if you are teaching these as science and as litterally true, then you are peddling superstitious religious nonsense in the guise of science, and you should be allowed to say so.

The teacher in this case didn’t say “if you go to the Lutheran Church on Sunday…or if you belong to a witch’s coven and celebrate the Sabbat…then you are peddling religious superstitious nonsense. He said if you are teaching it in science class then you are peddling superstitious religious nonsense.

So some student decided to sue for that. Not only is this a threat to the First Amendment free speech protections, its also a sign of the stupid claptrap focus on our culture of the right to never hear anything offensive.

Now, I’m not convinced that the reforms of Franz Joseph were really in the interest of the peasants (in fact, I’m kind of baffled he would say that). But unless he was telling the students that their individual religious beliefs were superstitious nonsense, this case should have been thrown out.

The result of this case is that even though quoting Mark Twain was upheld (the mere fact this was even in dispute should give people pause to think), the result is that now quoting Mark Twain will wind up being seen as pushing the envelope, so school districts will play it safe and stop even that.

Obviously the solution is clear: we must purge our school libraries of Mark Twain because to fail to do so would be to allow the state to express an opinion on religion!

What utter trash.

I think we are reaching a point where it really becomes important for a teacher to deeply understand the characteristic misconceptions ID/creationism brings to the pantheon of the pseudo-sciences. These are different from other pseudo-sciences because they have been constructed to achieve specific sectarian objectives, but they constitute a pseudo-science nevertheless. And as a clear pseudo-science, it can be used against itself. ID/creationists have lost control of this, and they are stuck with it.

I have often used pseudo-science concepts as a good foil for correcting misconceptions and for introducing a little humor into a class as well. I know others who do this also. It can be done without disparaging any religion, but the results can be just as effective and stinging against any misuse of science, no matter who is doing the misusing.

And just let a pseudo-science advocate attempt to file a lawsuit claiming the pseudo-science is being discriminated against. He (it will almost always be a he) will have to demonstrate that his pseudo-science is in fact a productive science cited by others and contributing to an expanding understanding of the natural universe. And to do that, he will have to publicly associate himself with it. He will also have to demonstrate that the teacher was using the institutions and powers of government to screw up his student’s education.

Let a pseudo-science advocate try to bring religion into it. If a teacher can learn to accomplish the task of debunking the misconceptions without even mentioning religion, there is no reason to fear. In the case of ID/creationism, the pseudo-concepts used to mimic real concepts are so wrong that they can be added to the list of common misconceptions that are dead-enders.

With a little time and some thought, I think I could have a lot of fun with these.

can i talk about the FSM and should a teacher in a class room speak of it as “superstitious non-sense” its grounds for a 1st amendment case?

would “super natural non sense” have been a-ok?

I think Mike Elzinga is on the right track here. What comes across to me is an underlying dispute as to what exactly constitutes a religion, for legal purposes. And in practice, the answer seems to be any set of beliefs held strongly enough by enough people to have some political recognition and perhaps leverage.

After all, in its history science has established a great deal as being probably the case, and far more as being probably NOT the case. Given that the scope of science is anything that can be observed and tested effectively, what’s been established covers an impressively wide territory, which makes it bound to conflict with belief systems outside science.

Implicitly, then, science courses cannot avoid touching on matters that risk conflicting with someone’s religious faith somewhere somehow. Even if that faith isn’t directly rejected as nonsense, it can (as creationists demonstrate) still mock the, uh, less-informed religious convictions. To creationists, the teaching of evolutionary biology IS, DIRECTLY religious teaching, since it smacks their faith upside the head so immediately. They sincerely see evolution”ism” as a religious faith, and wrong.

If belief in voodoo were as extensive, and its faithful so zealous, as creationists, then poking pins in dolls would almost surely be regarded as attempted murder. Hell, if Justice Scalia were as devout a voodoo believer as he is a bible-banger, he’d probably die of such treatment out of sheer religious conviction!

The Lemon test appears to require that any words that have either a religious purpose or a religious effect either by favouring or by denying a particular religious view must not be uttered by a public-school teacher (or any public employee) in the course of professional duty. Only words of demonstrably secular purpose or effect are admissable.

In particular, it seems that it is acceptable to remark specifically that a six-day recent creation and a Noachian Flood are not attested by any physical evidence and that there is ample evidence of a different (and enormously longer) history. That is a secular statement of fact. However, it is not acceptable to remark generally that insistance on Biblical literality is irrational, or superstitious, or some such. That is a statement of religious doctrine. But the latter follows necessarily from the former.

Further, it would seem that any words that might suggest the latter are borderline, and would be subject, in all likelihood, to further litigation. All that would be required would be a reliable record and a Biblical-literalist parent (or some other interested party?) willing to sue over some form of words that might be taken to mean rejection of their own religious dogma, to non-secular effect or purpose.

All of which means that no teacher in his or her right mind will stick the neck out so far as to say anything that might be construed as a denial of Biblical literality. How can any teacher, in the throes of answering a question, having to think on the feet, ensure that any words they use will be free of what a Court might hold blameworthy? Such a teacher can be certain that if a successful suit ensues - or even merely a troublesome one - they’ll suffer dire consequences.

Inevitably, they’ll avoid the entire issue. Soft-pedal evolution, present it as a “theory”, not teach the known history of the Earth as fact, tip-toe around the evidence. In other words, not educate for fear of the consequences. And the crazies win again. Worse, they win without having to lift a finger.

All of which means that no teacher in his or her right mind will stick the neck out so far as to say anything that might be construed as a denial of Biblical literality.

There are many true statements that can be said of Biblical Literalism that should pass the Lemon test if said in anywhere near the right venue. Pointing out that all of the contradicting passages makes literalism impossible is one. Showing that the commandment to not kill is not compatible with the commandment to execute people for so many minor sins is another. Is it reasonable to expect teachers to avoid opinions, and try to stick to facts? I don’t know.

What if a teacher pointed out that Darwin thought wiping out “savages” was sad but necessary? E.g. in Australia. (Ironically, there’s a Darwin University in Oz.)

Shouldn’t he be sacked?

jasonmitchell Wrote:

Will it be a non-story because the DI “doesn’t endorse the teaching of creationism’? or will they crow because their sympathies (I believe) would be with the plaintiff - or will they be outraged (not bloody likely) because of the censorship being imposed on this teacher’s ‘academic freedom’

IMHO the DI will side with the teacher who was denied a forum for creationism in the school newspaper - they will claim HE is the one being censored -

The DI was completely silent on the Freshwater case as far as I have been checking (up to ~2 months ago). That’s expected because criticizing Freshwater would offend their biggest base, but defending him would undermine their (already pathetic) attempts to “distance themselves” from Biblical creationism.

This case is different, so I guess they would criticize the anti-Christian comments but not necessarily defend the teacher who taught “creationism.” BTW, I have only skimmed one of the links, so I’m not sure what “kind” of “creationism” was taught. If it was only the designer-free phony “critical analysis” of “Darwinism,” then the DI would defend it - and whine about it being called “creationism.”

novparl said:

What if a teacher pointed out that Darwin thought wiping out “savages” was sad but necessary?

Then, as you know, he would be lying.

To begin with, the court concludes that it “cannot discern a legitimate secular purpose in [the] statement,” applying the Lemon test’s “secular purpose” prong. But I would think the legitimate secular purpose is clear: The speaker is trying to get students to accept the theory of evolution, which he believes to be much more conducive to scientific thinking, and much more likely to produce useful results, than creationism. That’s a perfectly secular purpose. To be sure, it’s a purpose that is accomplished using the means of deriding religion. But that doesn’t stop the purpose (promoting belief in a scientific theory that the speaker thinks is sound, useful, and conducive to scientific thinking) from being secular.

Does anyone know the evidence that the teacher was trying to say anything about the theory of evolution in his history class? Why did the theory of evolution come up if it did. What is the history requirement these days?

Chip Poirot said: The point is that in a classroom, students should be up to having their beliefs challenged and questioned.

That depends on the class. There is little reason to intentionally discuss religion in Chemistry class - you should be teaching chemistry.

Your argument misses the fact that we pay those teachers to teach specific subjects. I don’t want my tax dollars wasted on a chemistry teacher who teaches religion and philosophy. Even if I think those are worthwhile subjects to teach in High School, it would still be true that Chemistry class is the wrong place to teach them and a chemistry teacher is likely unqualified to do it. Chemistry teachers should be challenging students on chemistry. That is what they are qualified to do, its what they are paid to do, and its what our kids are sitting in their class to learn.

If all the teacher is doing is simply “speaking for the state”, then in essence, the state is just writing the teacher’s lesson plans and compelling speech.

That is what the teacher is doing. They get paid by the state, they represent the state, and they have to teach the state’s mandated curriculum. Teachers are like judges - when they are on the job, they represent the state. Which is precisely why their speech is limited.

If you don’t think they represent the state, then you have no constitutional reason to oppose teaching creationism in school.

This is a departure from earlier standards where…with a few exceptions, K-12 was supposed to emulate the kind of free and open discussion of ideas one finds in a University

I agree with you that open discussion has value. And I think it makes sense to introduce it in a graded fashion - i.e. increasing open discussion in increasingly higher grades, so that seniors, especially, have some experience with it before they go off to college.

However, open discussion is not the purpose of the class. It is a means to an end - the end being better education - and as such, there is simply no good reason to pursue it in cases where it undermines the end of good education.

novparl said:

What if a teacher pointed out that Darwin thought wiping out “savages” was sad but necessary? E.g. in Australia. (Ironically, there’s a Darwin University in Oz.)

Shouldn’t he be sacked?

That teacher should be sacked for lying to his students, given as how Darwin never advocated or even said that “wiping out ‘savages’ was sad but necessary.”

novparl said:

What if a teacher pointed out that Darwin thought wiping out “savages” was sad but necessary? E.g. in Australia. (Ironically, there’s a Darwin University in Oz.)

Shouldn’t he be sacked?

Yes, he should be sacked, FOR LYING. Because Darwin DID NOT SAY THAT. The statement you are quote-mining had no mention of necessity, only an examination of what was actually in the process of happening at the time. European invaders were exterminating “savages”, it’s a statement of historical fact, not a recommendation. In your delusions, is every historical account of WWII an endorsement of the Holocaust? I’m sure the Holocaust deniers and various anti-semitic bigots among your fellow creationist frauds would love you for that.

novparl, since you can’t make a single post without lying, fuck off and die. You’re obviously incapable of participating in an honest discussion, so you have no business here.

The “savages” were not in fact exterminated. The last Australian census in 2005 gave a population of 410 000 claiming to be Aboriginals or Torres Strait Islanders. This is probably about the same as populated the continent when the first European settlers arrived.

This is not in any way to whitewash the hideous history, which is inexcusable and indefensible. The Tasmanian Aboriginal people - possibly a different genetic group altogether - were wiped out more or less completely, and only survive in a relatively small number of people who have some Tasmanian Aboriginal ancestors. There may have been as few as 5000 Tasmanian Aboriginals. Nobody knows.

We have said sorry. Fat lot of use that was. You have stumbled across the secret shame of my country.

eric said:

Chip Poirot said: The point is that in a classroom, students should be up to having their beliefs challenged and questioned.

That depends on the class. There is little reason to intentionally discuss religion in Chemistry class - you should be teaching chemistry.

Once again, people either misread what I say or intentionally misquote me.

I did not say that religion or philosophy should be a substitute for Chemistry or that a teacher did not have a responsibility to teach the curriculum. To the contrary, I said the opposite.

What I said was that in the context of teaching the curriculum, the teacher has the right to engage in the relevant free expression of ideas, given an age appropriate context. I said that the ideal of the University classroom should be used as a model for the K-12 classroom-again-with the proviso of age appropriateness.

Some subjects/topics permit of more open discussion than others. But teachers are paid for their knowledge of the subject matter-not just to channel the state’s opinion.

And that is why i said now, and have always said, that there should be a balancing test. But there should never be a state imposed orthodoxy on the curriculum.

And for the record, I do not now nor have I ever advocated teaching YEC, ID, “teach the controversy”, or any of the pseudo-academic freedom bills sponsored by the DI.

Now consider the statement: the teacher said that teaching Creationism is superstitious religious nonsense. The teacher is expressing an opinion about science and religion on a matter of public controversy, when apparently, that matter of controversy came up in classroom discussion. The student should be encouraged (if he or she sees fit) to challenge the teacher’s viewpoint and should not be downgraded for disagreeing. Nor should the student be singled out for ridicule.

But none of that happened: the teacher **did not** say going to the Lutheran Church is religious superstitious nonsense. He said teaching Creationism-which in our culture means the view that the earth app. 10,000 yo, etc-is superstitious religious nonsense. Teachers should not have to parse words n the classroom.

I have rather mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I think the court erred in condemning the teacher for referring to creationism as “superstitious nonsense”, when, in fact, there is recent legal precedent which would support the teacher, though it is not binding on the State of California (I am referring of course to Judge John Jones’s decision at the end of the Dover trial.). On the other hand, the court was well within its rights to condemn the teacher’s anti-religious stance on First Amendment grounds.

Which “US DEPARTMENT” are you referring to? Does it exist within the present reality or in an alternate universe:

lissa said:

But of course I’m not a fool and I know the US DEPARTMENT is aware of the problems already.

It’s self explanatory based on the information I gave you and you know it is.

Chip Poirot said:

You [Dan] started out by saying you had not seen Baptists, Quakers, Congregationalists, etc. practicing ritual and that ritual is not part of religion.

I never said either of these things.

In fact, I have seen Baptists and Congregationalists practicing rituals.

What I did said is that I had never seen them practicing ritual to ward off evil, and I have not.

AND I most definitely never said that ritual is not part of any religion.

What I did say is that there exist religions that do not involve the “performance of rituals to ward off evil”. One such religion is Quakerism. Indeed, the concept of evil makes almost no appearance in Quakerism. I’m not an expert, but I believe Jainism and Confucianism are also religions that don’t involve rituals to ward off evil. (These religions have rites and rituals, yes. But not, so far as I am aware, rituals to ward off evil.)

Chip has shown that the Lord’s Prayer can be interpreted as a “ritual to ward off evil”. But it can also be interpreted as nothing more than a calming tradition to relax the speaker – no more a ritual to ward off evil than is saying “gesundheit” after a sneeze. (The Roman Catholics that I have spoken to have all taken the later position. Admittedly, I have never spoken to the Pope.)

Chip Poirot said:

From Cultural Anthropology by Marvin Harris and Orna Johnson (I don’t know if it is a leading textbook but it is well known):

Rituals are formalized, stylized, and repetitive acts that are performed in special sacred places at set times.

Communion, confession, religious festivals, saying Mass, praying, pouring out libations to the loah, being ridden by the loah, speaking in tongues, saying the Apostle’s creed-those are rituals. And if they are not-what do you call them?

I would call all these rituals except for prayer (which can be a ritual, but which can also be free-form and unritualized – certainly prayer can be performed in non-sacred spaces and at any time) and the stuff with the loah (because I don’t know what loah is).

But these are not rituals to ward off evil. And there are organized religions (as I’ve said above) that do not have communion, or confession, or religious festivals, or Mass, or speaking in tongues, or any creed at all.

Let’s review where we are:

Chip Poirot said:

Religion by definition entails performance of rituals to ward off evil, just as a baseball player might touch his hat.

That’s a broad statement: Chip’s claim is that all religion – organized, disorganized, and unorganized, past, present, and future, Eastern and Western, civilized and uncivilized, conservative and liberal – must necessarily entail the “performance of rituals to ward off evil”.

In contrast, I have only to find one organized religion, or even a single religious person, who does not perform rituals to ward off evil.

I have done so.

I’ve forgotten. Please remind me which US Department this is:

lissa said:

It’s self explanatory based on the information I gave you and you know it is.

Where is all the “proof” you’ve promised supporting the veracity of your “conspiracy”. Please post the links. Am looking forward to seeing them, I think.

lissa said:

It’s self explanatory based on the information I gave you and you know it is.

Uh, yeah, a US government agency wasting tax payers’ money on a sort of top secret project to clone/breed and sell superior humans for profit, despite the monstrously prohibitive time and resources required, is very logical.

John Kwok said:

Where is all the “proof” you’ve promised supporting the veracity of your “conspiracy”. Please post the links. Am looking forward to seeing them, I think.

Lissa doesn’t care about providing proof or evidence to support her claims, though, she does get upset whenever we then doubt her, despite her claims to the contrary.

Uh, yeah, a US government agency wasting tax payers’ money on a sort of top secret project to clone/breed and sell superior humans for profit…

Makes no sense to spend a lot of money on this, after all, you’re talking about a commodity product easily produced by unskilled labor.

Dan Said

That’s a broad statement: Chip’s claim is that all religion – organized, disorganized, and unorganized, past, present, and future, Eastern and Western, civilized and uncivilized, conservative and liberal – must necessarily entail the “performance of rituals to ward off evil”.

In contrast, I have only to find one organized religion, or even a single religious person, who does not perform rituals to ward off evil.

I have done so.

I guess it might hinge on what you mean by “ward off evil.” I’ll concede the point that some liberal Protestant churches do not emically think of their rituals as warding off evil per se. But then again, liberal Protestant churches pretty much divorce themselves from traditional theological understandings. The concepts of sin, evil, separation, salvation, redemption are all central to traditional Christian interpretation. If you answer an altar call and pray for salvation from sin, you are warding off evil. When you give an invocation and create the sacred space, you are separating the sacred from the mundane, and thus creating a space into which evil cannot penetrate.

As one who practiced Quakerism, I can tell you that most Quakers do indeed believe in evil-they may not necessarily believe in a personal devil or believe in original sin, but they certainly do believe that war, poverty, etc. are evil. I think that Jainism does not believe in evil. Confucianism, arguably does not, but then again, Confucianism is arguably not a religion.

So I would however modify my statement a bit to all religions do indeed entail religion, though not necessarily to ward off evil. On the other hand, warding off evil is a common practice.

A Catholic who says the Lord’s Prayer as just a “calming gesture” has IMO effectively ceased to practice and believe in Catholicism. They are basically robbing the Lord’s Prayer of its deeper theological significance and offering a sociological explanation for the Lord’s Prayer. If all you want is “calming” then one can achieve that by listening to a relaxation tape.

I still find it hard to believe that in all your experiences with religion you never saw or experience a ritual to ward off evil. You never hard Baptists singing “Would you over evil a victory win, there is power, power, power in the blood: You never saw a Baptist minister invite people to an altar call? And you never saw Congregationalists practice communion-which is a celebration of Jesus’ victory over sin. Now many Congregationalists today are quite liberal and modernist in their interpreation, so I suppose its possible the minister gave some kind of modernist interpretation. But that was not how Congregationalists practiced it way back in the bad old Puritan days.

But all this said, I guess I don’t see your point. Even if you caught me in a sloppy use of logic and making an overgeneralization, the fact remains that much of religious practice does entail ritual and a significant part of that ritual does entail warding off evil as part of the emic interpretation of the practitioner. I disagree with you btw about the free form issue.

But again, anyway: What is your point? The point I was trying to make is that practices we call superstition (such as touching a hat for luck) are similar to religious rituals and many religious rituals contain magical elements.

What is your objection to this larger point?

Chip Poirot said:

Dave Luckett said:

Sigh. This is what you get when you discard a perfectly reasonable commonsense idea (opinion is free, but facts are sacred) and let the lawyers loose on the provisions of a written statute.

Which of the following sentences is a sacred fact and which is a free opinion?

“It is warm and sunny today” “It is a beautiful day”

“Six million Jews died in Nazi Germany” “Six million Jews were systematically and deliberately murdered by the Nazi regime.”

But I agree, if we are to have a legalistic argument between the somewhat conflicted Constitutional provisions of “free speech” and “separation of Church and State”, there certainly will be trouble, and people of goodwill, like Chip and I, will differ, sometimes painfully, on where the line is to be drawn. In this case I would draw it about where, as I understand it, the Court has done.

Excellent-why don’t you explain it to me so I don’t get sued.

Chip, you mistake me. I agree with you about intrinsic difficuly of ruling which utterances are and are not admissable, which leads to contorted court rulings on the question. There is, of course, no useful advice I can give you; and when teaching evolutionary theory there is no way that it is possible even to recite the plain, bald facts without offending somebody who insists on taking Genesis literally, and no way to prevent such a person from suing, case or no case. But is there a way of making success in such a suit very unlikely?

FWIW, it appears to me that a court has decided that implicit criticism of YEC, consisting of some statement of the unimpeachable evidence that the Earth is very old and that life evolved, is acceptable, but that an explicit statement that YEC is nonsense may be actionable, even though it is plain to any reasonable mind that the second necessarily follows from the first. This appears to me to follow what I would regard as a divide between facts and opinion. As you quite rightly point out, that line is blurred, and edge cases abound. The conclusion I would draw is Joe Friday’s: “Just the facts, ma’am.” I see no better solution, in the situation you and your colleagues find yourselves.

I am grateful that in this country we have neither a formal prohibition on State agents uttering words for or against a religious teaching, nor a formal bill of rights in Constitutional or statute law. And yet I don’t believe that there is any danger of either dogmatic atheism nor of fundamentalist religion being taught in our State schools, nor do I see any dilution of our long and robust tradition of free speech. I believe a teacher who told a student his or her religion was “nonsense” would, on the complaint of the parents, be administratively counselled to amend his or her language with a view to producing both a professional affect and a legitimate educational outcome. This appears to me to produce much the same outcome as the case here, but without lawyering up and arguing about the meaning of the Constitution.

Chip Poirot said:

But all this said, I guess I don’t see your point. Even if you caught me in a sloppy use of logic and making an overgeneralization,

That is my point.

Chip Poirot said:

…the fact remains that much of religious practice does entail ritual and a significant part of that ritual does entail warding off evil as part of the emic interpretation of the practitioner. I disagree with you btw about the free form issue.

But again, anyway: What is your point? The point I was trying to make is that practices we call superstition (such as touching a hat for luck) are similar to religious rituals and many religious rituals contain magical elements.

What is your objection to this larger point?

I absolutely agree with you when you say that much religious practice, particularly Christian, involves ritual. My point was that you overgeneralized in your initial statement.

I admire your honesty in admitting this.

Dan said:

Chip Poirot said:

But all this said, I guess I don’t see your point. Even if you caught me in a sloppy use of logic and making an overgeneralization,

That is my point.

Chip Poirot said:

…the fact remains that much of religious practice does entail ritual and a significant part of that ritual does entail warding off evil as part of the emic interpretation of the practitioner. I disagree with you btw about the free form issue.

But again, anyway: What is your point? The point I was trying to make is that practices we call superstition (such as touching a hat for luck) are similar to religious rituals and many religious rituals contain magical elements.

What is your objection to this larger point?

I absolutely agree with you when you say that much religious practice, particularly Christian, involves ritual. My point was that you overgeneralized in your initial statement.

I admire your honesty in admitting this.

Well, when I goof I goof. But I’m a bit suspicious about what you are saying here.

You did say that you had **never** seen a ritual to ward off evil and you went on to list all the Protestant churches in which you had never seen it. Now, like I said, I’ll grant you that liberal Congregationalists, Unitarians and liberal Quakers may not be warding off evil (or at least don’t think of their practices that way).

So you will admit your “mistake” in saying that you had never a ritual to ward off evil?

The fact remains, that in most orthodox/conservative/fundamentalist/evangelical Christian denominations, rituals to ward off evil are in fact practiced on a sustained basis. It is part of their routine and fundamental to their world view.

A superstition is a practice or ritual to ward off bad luck or evil.

Creationism is nonsense.

So, therefore: Creationism is superstitious religious nonsense is literally true-and if anything, borders on the redundant.

FWIW, it appears to me that a court has decided that implicit criticism of YEC, consisting of some statement of the unimpeachable evidence that the Earth is very old and that life evolved, is acceptable, but that an explicit statement that YEC is nonsense may be actionable, even though it is plain to any reasonable mind that the second necessarily follows from the first. This appears to me to follow what I would regard as a divide between facts and opinion. As you quite rightly point out, that line is blurred, and edge cases abound. The conclusion I would draw is Joe Friday’s: “Just the facts, ma’am.” I see no better solution, in the situation you and your colleagues find yourselves.

From my reading of the Judge’s opinion, the teacher would have been fine if he had said “pseudo-scientific nonsense.” The judge found the word magic objectionable, so I infer that he found the compilation of “ superstitious religious nonsense” to be objectionable. I’ll simply repeat my point-made many, many times before above that there is good reason to object to the judge’s ruling for two reasons:

1. The teacher did not say that religion in general is superstitious nonsense. He said Creationism specificallhy is superstitious religious nonsense.And again, Creationism is a term of legal art-it’s not about a generic belief in a Creator-it’s about parading things like “Two of every kind were on Noah’s Ark” as genuine science.

I agree that if the teacher had ssaid, citing the Apostle’s Creed in Church is superstitious religious nonsense, that would probably have been out of bounds. Though I do wonder if the judge would really give all religion a bye, regardless of how ridiculous or silly or dangerous the belief. So, for example, if you said “the Taliban are mindless religious fanatics” or “Jim Jones was a homicidal maniac” or “you’d have to be some kind of crazy to fall for Heaven’s Gate” would people with these associations have the right to sue?

2. The judge should have applied a balancing act, taking into account the teacher’s right as an individual to express on opinion on a matter of public concern (whether or not Creationism should be taught in the classroom), on the teacher’s own editorial policy in the school paper, and on current events in discussing the curriculum.

I am grateful that in this country we have neither a formal prohibition on State agents uttering words for or against a religious teaching, nor a formal bill of rights in Constitutional or statute law. And yet I don’t believe that there is any danger of either dogmatic atheism nor of fundamentalist religion being taught in our State schools, nor do I see any dilution of our long and robust tradition of free speech. I believe a teacher who told a student his or her religion was “nonsense” would, on the complaint of the parents, be administratively counselled to amend his or her language with a view to producing both a professional affect and a legitimate educational outcome. This appears to me to produce much the same outcome as the case here, but without lawyering up and arguing about the meaning of the Constitution.

There is in fact in higher ed and K-12 a dilution of Constitutional protection for free speech.

Like I said-to a point. If a student said “the Bible teachers that black people are descendants of Ham and therefore condemned to slavery” I think a teacher would have the right to call that **religious** belief racist crapola.

But as a practical matter, the teacher anyway may call his Union Rep and if the teacher can make a case that his speech is protected by the contract, the principal would have to show that the teacher’s speech was out of bounds.

I do agree, btw, that in a Science class the best strategy is to stick to a straightforward discussion/explication of the facts and theories as presented in the text. On the other hand I could see discussion of ecological issues during a unit on earth science.

But in courses like history or sociology, you really can’t just do a Joe Friday. Sure there are some basic facts that need to be presented and learned. But so much of historical practice and sociological practice is interpretation and application of facts-and even then, a lot of facts might be in dispute-like the causes of crime or whether or not Oliver Cromwell was a tyrant or a great leader, or both. While it may be a fact that the Nazis systematically killed several million people, why they did it is in fact a matter of historical interpretation.

Chip Poirot said:

You did say that you had **never** seen a ritual to ward off evil and you went on to list all the Protestant churches in which you had never seen it. Now, like I said, I’ll grant you that liberal Congregationalists, Unitarians and liberal Quakers may not be warding off evil (or at least don’t think of their practices that way).

First of all, my list included Protestant and Catholic churches, and Jewish temples.

The question then becomes a definitional one about “ritual” and “ward off evil”.

My take on prayer is that prayer is not a way for a person to ask God for a favor … God already knows what the person wants … but as a way for a person to remind him/herself to do what God wants. Lord’s Prayer: “thy will be done”. Saint Francis’s Prayer: “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace”.

But Chip has convinced me that the Lord’s Prayer could also be thought of as a ritual to ward off evil. That is, as a request from the person praying to ask God for a favor.

So: I have heard the Lord’s Prayer said many times, but I had always thought of it, not as a ritual to ward off evil, but as a statement of the humbleness of the person praying. Now I see that I could be wrong … you’d have to ask all the congregants about their own personal takes on the prayer. (If you did this, I suspect you’d find that most of the congregants haven’t thought about the issue at all!)

I have even said the Lord’s Prayer myself! It was a translation exercise in a High School German class. Certainly, in this context the Lord’s Prayer is completely devoid of ritual or “ward off evil” connotations.

Similarly, I cannot think of the Lord’s Prayer as a message from humanity to God, asking something of God. God already knows the Lord’s Prayer, we don’t need to remind him/her/it of what he/she/it has already heard millions of times!

[While I’m here I want to say a word about the Baptist Church I occasionally attend. It’s something of an oddity – for example it actively supports gay rights and seeks to attract gay members, and for that reason there is friction between this church and the church hierarchy – but I can guarantee you that at that church I have never heard anyone sing “Would you over evil a victory win, there is power, power, power in the blood”.]

So, yes, I still hold that at the many churches (and few temples) where I have attended services, I’ve never experienced anything that I have thought of as “a ritual to ward off evil”.

But Chip has convinced me that other people might think of it in different ways.

Now, Chip, how about you? Are you convinced that other people might think of religion in different ways, or do you think that, for example, your interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer is the only possible interpretation?

Dan said:

Now, Chip, how about you? Are you convinced that other people might think of religion in different ways, or do you think that, for example, your interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer is the only possible interpretation?

Yes Dan. You are correct. To use some fancy anthropological lingo, from an emic perspective liberal Protestants and Catholics do not describe what they are doing as “warding off evil.” (the term emic btw means a description by the participant of the culture-or subgroup of a culture in this case that is meaningful to the participant. An accurate emic description of a culture or cultural practice is one that most members of that culture or practitioner would acknowledge as a widely understood meaning of the culture or practice).

I admit, there is part of me that is attracted to aspects of Unitarianism and Quakerism, or even very liberal Congregationalism or Reformed Judaism. All of them mesh with my basic belief in rational deism.

On the other hand, there is the other part of me that wonders what is the whole point of being a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, etc. if you reject central ideas about sin, redemption, evil, good, the soul, the meaning of communion, etc. ? It’s a tension that any liberal theist or rational Deist has to wrestle with and I can’t for the life of me think of a good answer-at least not one that is going to make people like PZ Myers happy.

So, to sum up, yes I do acknowledge that some people think of their religious practice as one primarily of humble submission to a supreme being (rather than efforts to manipulate the supernatural) and a focus on following ethical rules. Though I have to say, I think you underestimate the extent to which even many very liberal Quakers do retain a belief in the holy spirit and some form of supernaturalism. That is why I say silent Quaker worship is a ritual because it creates sacred space and the act is repeated on an ongoing basis. If I were a structuralist, I could construct an argument that that logically implies a belief in evil, but I’m not a structuralist so I’ll let it go. And your Baptist Church is unlike any Baptist Church I have ever heard of. I can guarantee you the Baptist Churches around my neck of the woods do an awful lot of warding off evil.

The other side of the coin however is the etic description (description of a culture or cultural practice from the perspective of the social scientist). Frankly, if I look at the rituals and practices of even liberal Protestant churches they engage in actions that I can reasonably interpret as “warding off evil.”

Incidentally, a good sociologist/anthropologist more or less operates from a premise of naturalism. As a social scientist I wouldn’t go around throwing in supernatural forces into my explanation for cultural phenomena. On the other hand, it isn’t the task of the sociologist/anthropologist to tell other people their beliefs are wrong.

On the other hand, when people have and preach a belief that can only be justified by appeals to the most absolutely bizarre miracles (two of every kind surviving in an Ark) and then claim that that belief is justified by an etic description that meets the standards of natural scientists, then sorry, they are just spouting superstitious religious nonsense and they should be called on it.

Teachers are not obligated to practice epistemological relativism and even cultural relativism has to have some limits-especially in U.S. public schools. Sorry, if your cultural practice allows or requires you to mutilate a young girl’s genitals as part of a rite of passage and school officials find out about it, they have an obligation to report you to CPS. What to do about what happens in other parts of the world is a more complex issue.

Anyway, I’m glad you gave me this effort to clarify and I’m glad we cleared the air. I over reacted to you a little yesterday and I am sorry.

Chip Poirot said:

On the other hand, when people have and preach a belief that can only be justified by appeals to the most absolutely bizarre miracles (two of every kind surviving in an Ark) and then claim that that belief is justified by an etic description that meets the standards of natural scientists, then sorry, they are just spouting superstitious religious nonsense and they should be called on it.

I absolutely agree here, but you miss what I think of as the most absurd facet of Genesis: In Genesis 2:19-20 one man, Adam, names all the animals. In fact we know that an army of taxonomists has been working for centuries to name and describe animals, and estimates are that the taxonomists are one-tenth done!

Dan said:

…you miss what I think of as the most absurd facet of Genesis: In Genesis 2:19-20 one man, Adam, names all the animals. In fact we know that an army of taxonomists has been working for centuries to name and describe animals, and estimates are that the taxonomists are one-tenth done!

And if we’re to believe that Genesis’ account of Adam’s naming all the animals is true, what language were all the names named in, and why didn’t anyone bother to write Adam’s list in the first place?

Okay Chip, that was a huge post. I have nowhere near the time (or interest) to respond point-by-point, so I’ll try and sum up:

1. I agree with you that 1st amendment protections don’t stop at the H.S. school door.

2. I disagree with the idea that the are exactly the same on both sides of the door. Maybe this is a strawman argument and you agree too. If not, then I would simply ask you how you prevent a teacher from teaching creationism or endorsing their own religion, because clearly those things are allowed in the marketplace.

3. If we do agree that they are not exactly the same, then (tautologically) there must be a difference. In other words, there must be some speech allowable in the marketplace that is not allowable in the school. In this case, I would ask you how you would have the courts distinguish between allowed and not allowed classroom speech. Under whatever criteria you propose, I’m going to ask how it prevents a teacher from either teaching creationism or endorsing their own religion, and whether Corbett’s speech is allowed or not allowed under your criteria.

As far as I can tell, your argument is that calling creationism ‘religious superstitous nonsense’ is allowable because it really is factually and observationally true that creationism is religious, and superstitious, and nonsense. Where we seem to still disagee is that, while I personally agree with you that all three terms are fairly accurate, I also think the entire phrase as used by Corbett is more accurately described as “a hostile personal opinion” rather than “a well-argued conclusion that incidentally happens to be upsetting to some people.” For me it falls within the current legal category of “improperly hostile to or disapproving of” a religious belief.

As an aside I think you are downplaing the absolutely pro-science subtlety of the judge’s opinion. By ruling the creationism taught by Peloza and referred to by Corbett is protected by the religion part of the 1st amendment, he is pretty much setting up Peloza’s teaching to be ruled unconstitutional in a future case. Saying that the creationism taught by Peloza is protected as religious speech is a very backhanded compliment at best.

eric said: 3. If we do agree that they are not exactly the same, then (tautologically) there must be a difference. In other words, there must be some speech allowable in the marketplace that is not allowable in the school. In this case, I would ask you how you would have the courts distinguish between allowed and not allowed classroom speech. Under whatever criteria you propose, I’m going to ask how it prevents a teacher from either teaching creationism or endorsing their own religion, and whether Corbett’s speech is allowed or not allowed under your criteria.

The short answer is as I have said-by applying a balancing act and starting from the presumption that 1) the goal is to have a marketplace of ideas and 2) by distinguishing the teacher acting as teacher vs. the school district taking official action.

I would first ask “would this fly in an ideal college classroom” (i.e. presuming young adult learners)?

If you look at the AAUP, AFT and NEA standards of academic freedom any speech that is relevant and germane to the discussion in the classroom is protected. Admittedly, there’s no quick and easy test for some controversial speech. Per my contract at least, my obligations are to teach what’s on my syllabus, my syllabus has to match the catalogue or state requirements (which I have in a few courses) and the only possible exception to protected speech is harassment on the basis of a protected characteristic. You can’t hit on your students and claim free speech. you can’t tell your female students: “you’re a girl so you shouldn’t worry your pretty little head about math.”

This raises an interesting question: what if you are a Larry Summers kind of guy and you think there are genetic differences in math ability bewteen men and women. You are allowed to say that differences in career achievement are due to genetic endowments. I think the latter is protected while the former is not. I don’t agree with it and wish people wouldn’t say it and I would argue against it. But if I had to defend someone in a grievance I’d be confident and feel obligated to do so.

This raises the next step: is there something about the age group that makes the particular speech age innapropriate? For example, a perfectly reasonable discussion about AIDs and HIV prevention in some college classes would be out of bounds in some K-12 environments.

Some of this admittedly is going to involve subtle judgements about time, place, subject, age, etc. I would also ask is there a normal kind of discourse about this issue in American society? Is the subject of historical/academic interest?

So let’s take the statement about Mark Twain. He’s an important figure in American history. The judge said you could quote him, but not approvingly. OK, the Judge just failed my ***personal*** Lemon Test. If you are censoring approval of Mark Twain, something’s wrong.

Let’s take the statement about magic. The judge implied that comparing religion to magic could be unconstitutional. Well, as I have already pointed out, I think tje judge is largely ignorant of anthropology. Good history does acknowledge the contributions of anhropology and other social sciences. Pointing out that religion (most of the time) entails some kind of magical thinking or magical world view should be de rigeur. you shouldn’t have to pussyfoot around standard, accepted anthropological ideas in a social science/social studies course. and you shouldnt’ have to pussyfoot around the word “pussyfoot” either.

So finally, as I have said: this particular instance does come down to the specific context and nature of the discussion. Surely Corbett is entitled to explain his editorial policy for Chrissake!

How do you handle speech that is disciplinarily incompetent yet some people insist is not? On that I guess I would come back to several issues:

1. Is the teacher teaching the syllabus/lesson plan? 2. ARe the students fulfilling the goals/objectives of the school for that class as you would normally measure fulfilling those goals? 3. Did the teacher follow district policy in bringing in supplemental materials? 4. Is the teacher burning students with Tesla coils when he has been repeatedly told not to do that (sorry, had to throw that one in)? 5. How old are the kids?

In all honesty, and I know many on PT may even dislike me for this, I’m not worried about a teacher criticizing “Darwinism” per se. I’m far more concerned that in general, evolution is not even taught, and when it is, students simply tune out.

Dan said:

Chip Poirot said:

On the other hand, when people have and preach a belief that can only be justified by appeals to the most absolutely bizarre miracles (two of every kind surviving in an Ark) and then claim that that belief is justified by an etic description that meets the standards of natural scientists, then sorry, they are just spouting superstitious religious nonsense and they should be called on it.

I absolutely agree here, but you miss what I think of as the most absurd facet of Genesis: In Genesis 2:19-20 one man, Adam, names all the animals. In fact we know that an army of taxonomists has been working for centuries to name and describe animals, and estimates are that the taxonomists are one-tenth done!

Well, in fairness-I think he only had to name the kinds-which as far as I can tell is all the Families.

Chip Poirot said: The short answer is as I have said-by applying a balancing act and starting from the presumption that 1) the goal is to have a marketplace of ideas and 2) by distinguishing the teacher acting as teacher vs. the school district taking official action.

So a teacher is allowed - in class - to endorse their own religion, or make negative comments about a student’s religion, as long as the kids are clear that the teacher is giving their personal opinion?

I agree your rule is very reasonable outside the classroom. But I would worry that when opinions are given in the classroom, you run the risk of perceived coercion. You mentioned harassment, which is a good tie-in. Even if the student doesn’t feel harassed, even if they’re 18 or older, we recognize that it is generally a bad idea for a teacher/professor to ask a student out. One has power over the other, and this can lead to a subtle coercion. Not necessarily always, there are probably many exceptions you could cite, but the possibility of perceived coercion is great enough that the general rule is: don’t do it. Doesn’t the same go for voicing a strong opinion on a either your own or a student’s religion? Don’t you think that a student put in the position of having the primary authority in the classroom endorse a religion (or nonreligion) - even if its clearly his own opinion - might feel a bit coerced to go along with what the teacher says? And its not a sufficent answer to say the kids are mature enough to handle this, because even fully mature adults can and do feel coercion in these types of situations. Would most us feel comfortable or think it appropriate for our bosses to give us a religious speech? No! So why expect kids to be comfortable with it?

There is another issue with giving religious opinions in the clasroom: objectivity. I know that if I went before a judge, and that judge ended every sentence with “praise halleluja,” I would question that judge’s objectivity even if he made clear and I completely believed that these phrases were a personal touch and not reflective of the state’s opinion. Similarly, I think its reasonable for a student to question the objectivity of any teacher that feels compelled to give their personal religious opinion in the classroom.

In both the courtroom and classroom I think there is a fairly simple rule of thumb on which to judge the authorities’ behavior: if the authority can’t even talk the secular talk, the students/plaintiffs are fully justified in questioning their ability to walk the secular walk.

Eric,

I’ve addressed some of the specifics of your argument multiple times already. In addition, since I accidentally lost a lengthier, more detailed response, I’ll keep this one short (which is probably better anyway).

Until recently, the standard that judges applied in judging K-12 speech was premised on the view that speech in the classroom should be a marketplace of ideas. Thus the ideal to strive for was the environment of higher ed, subject to age appropriate constraints. This is the standard that the AFT and the NEA advocate.

Why do you think that is?

Your standard in contrast seems to be that teachers should exercise strict neutrality on controversial issues. Or is it only religious issues where they should be neutral?

How can you be neutral when you teach about topics such as inquisitions, peasant revolts, World Wars, the holocaust or more generally about world views.

History today is neither written nor taught as just a collection of Joe Friday facts.

But anyway, it’s worth pointing out yet one more time that Corbett was explaining his editorial policy when he was directly asked by a student to explain his editorial policy. Corbett’s answer is factually and literally correct. It is a reasoned judgement. This wasn’t about church attendance or taking communion or believing in being born again.

Chip Poirot said: Your standard in contrast seems to be that teachers should exercise strict neutrality on controversial issues. Or is it only religious issues where they should be neutral?

No strict neutrality needed on any subject; be hostile, just don’t be “improperly hostile.” And while there’s no way to draw a pin-bright line as to what counts as improper, there are two things we can say about it. (1) hostility is more ‘proper’ when your conclusions and summary comments are supported directly by your academic argument rather than being an op-ed. (2) The standard is going to be higher for religion than for other subjects.

But anyway, it’s worth pointing out yet one more time that Corbett was explaining his editorial policy when he was directly asked by a student to explain his editorial policy. Corbett’s answer is factually and literally correct. It is a reasoned judgement. This wasn’t about church attendance or taking communion or believing in being born again.

Yes, and I think its worth pointing out yet one more time that - unlike you or I - the judge actually heard both Corbett’s lecture verbatim and his direct testimony. Why you think the you are in a better position to judge the reasonableness of Corbett’s defense than the judge when you have less information than he did is a head scratcher to me.

eric said:

Chip Poirot said: Your standard in contrast seems to be that teachers should exercise strict neutrality on controversial issues. Or is it only religious issues where they should be neutral?

No strict neutrality needed on any subject; be hostile, just don’t be “improperly hostile.” And while there’s no way to draw a pin-bright line as to what counts as improper, there are two things we can say about it. (1) hostility is more ‘proper’ when your conclusions and summary comments are supported directly by your academic argument rather than being an op-ed. (2) The standard is going to be higher for religion than for other subjects.

I am against any special pleading for religion, just as I am against special pleading for “sensitivity” on race and gender or on political speech. The issue is very simple: is the discussion and presentation on the issue warranted by normal academic standards? Let’s say for example that in a class I am particularly critical of feminist viewpoint theory. Does that mean that undergraduates who have acquired a committment to feminism should rationally fear being downgraded? If I am harshly critical of the role of Republican ideology in leading to the financial crisis, should Republican students reasonably fear being downgraded? Or vice versa: suppose a conservative professor says that he thinks that Murray Weinstein makes valid points. Now I happen to think that Weinstein is pure tripe. And yes, I can see why that statement would offend minority students (hell, I’m offended by Weinstein). I even think that Weinstein simply uses very poor methods. But in the interest of the marketplace of ideas, discussion and even defense of him should be protected in the classroom.

But then somehow when I arrive at religious views I’m suddenly supposed to go on eggshells?

I think that’s a perversion of the establishment clause of the First Amendment which was never intended to exempt religion from the marketplace of ideas. In fact, speech about religion and politics is core speech-other kinds of relatively low value speech such as for example Hustler magazine-are protected secondarily. I mean we protect Hustler’s right to publish because we can’t devise a standard to ban Hustler and allow the core speech. Now granted, we can reasonably and rightly ban Hustler in the workplace and even in the college classroom. Though even then, there are some very particular circumstances in which it would be appropriate to discuss it and employ it as an example in a college classroom (that would clearly be an example of age inappropriate speech in K-12).

But the point is that the First Amendment protects all kinds of religious speech in public schools (as I keep pointing out). It protects the right to wear crosses, to engage in individual prayer, to form student religious groups, to allow proselytizing groups to use school facilities, to allow teachers to act as advisors to proselytizing groups, and even to a very limited degree, to display a Bible).

What it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) protect is coerced participation in religious rituals, engaging in religious indoctrination, using the classroom to proselytize, or having the school district officially sanction religious exercises.

If students can make a distinction between a teacher acting as advisor for Campus Ambassadors for Christ and feel confident that they will not be marked down for having a secular viewpoint, then students can make the similar distinction between a history professor expressing the view that Creationists are not telling the truth about science and that Creationism is “superstitios religious nonsense.”

But at least you seem now to have modified your position.

But anyway, it’s worth pointing out yet one more time that Corbett was explaining his editorial policy when he was directly asked by a student to explain his editorial policy. Corbett’s answer is factually and literally correct. It is a reasoned judgement. This wasn’t about church attendance or taking communion or believing in being born again.

Yes, and I think its worth pointing out yet one more time that - unlike you or I - the judge actually heard both Corbett’s lecture verbatim and his direct testimony. Why you think the you are in a better position to judge the reasonableness of Corbett’s defense than the judge when you have less information than he did is a head scratcher to me.

You can’t be serious. Tim Sandefur posted this case for discussion. He provided links to two different views of the case.

So what you are saying is that I cannot have an opinion contrary to the judge’s opinion?

I can read his ruling, I can read the relevant precedents, and I can come to a decision about whether or not I think the judge’s ruling is a good and desirable one. Other people may disagree.

But if I took your rhetorical question seriously, the only people who could ever comment on a judge’s opinion would be appellant’s attorneys and appeals courts judges, and then none of us could comment on the Supreme Court.

Judges aren’t some kind of sacred power. They are engaged in their own form of argumentation-it is just that their arguments have binding legal power in many instances. But that doesn’t put an end to argumentation. Judges don’t get a by in our society either in the process of argumentation (we just have to follow their dictates or pay the penalty). They aren’t philosopher kings and queens. In order for argumentation to help us arrive at valid policies it is important for the general public to critically engage the bench;

The basis of my critique of the judge’s ruling is two fold:

1. The judge did not apply any kind of balancing test. He ruled only on one aspect of the First Amendment (the student’s right to be free of religious -or irreligious-indoctrination in the classroom) and ignored the other 3/4 of the First Amendment-Corbett’s right to set an editorial policy for the school paper that precludes having religious based psuedo-science presented as science, his right to express a criticism of religion (Peloza’s Creationist speech is protected for some reason by the First Amendment according to the judge) and his right to engage in discussion and express an opinion on matters of public concern when relevant in the classroom:

But there is no need to take my word on this issue-the AFT believe it or not has real lawyers and that kind of stuff, so if you need quote from authority, I’ll defer to the AFT (again, it’s worth pointing out that the AFT voluntarily joined the suit as a codefendant):

2. I can also fairly criticize the judge for his tortured logic and the implications of his argumentation. For example, the judge ruled that Corbett could quote Mark Twain, but could not do so favorably. The judge noted that the use of the word “magic” to describe religion would in another context have been construed by him as over the line. So his objection is as far as I can tell to the use of the word “superstition”. My sense of the judge is that he would be perfectly fine if someone described shamanistic religions as magic or superstitious, but somehow, the judge wants to give Creationism a by.

OK-again, if you have to have an authority I’ll point to Volokh. My point number 2 here is essentially the same as Volokh’s (I came to it independently before I had read what Volokh wrote, but I think he puts it well).

Anyway, if it matters (and I don’t really see that it does) I’ve been teaching full time now for about 18 years at the higher ed level. I’ve been through the PC wars. I’ve served on campus discrimination advisory panels. I’ve provided advice to my local on similar issues in preparation for bargaining. I have a pretty good sense of how these issues get practically applied and what their practical impact is in the classroom.

Judge Bean lives!

Did anyone say compromise?

http://www.gocomics.com/nonsequitur/

(gotta love Wiley)

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This page contains a single entry by Timothy Sandefur published on May 5, 2009 11:33 AM.

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