Law & Courts News in Brief

Teacher Can’t Be Sued for Comments on Religion

By Mark Walsh — August 29, 2011 1 min read

A California teacher is immune from a student’s lawsuit claiming that his classroom comments were hostile to religion, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The three-judge panel declined to decide whether any of teacher James Corbett’s comments during an Advanced Placement European history class at Capistrano Valley High School, in Mission Viejo, violated the student’s First Amendment right to be free from government establishment of religion.

Instead, it held unanimously that it was not clearly established that a teacher could violate the establishment clause by appearing hostile to religion during class lectures, so Mr. Corbett was entitled to qualified immunity.

According to court papers, Mr. Corbett had told students in a letter that the course would be provocative and would prompt them to develop their critical-thinking skills. Students would be encouraged to disagree with the teacher as long as they could back up their arguments, the letter said.

The student, who believes in creationism, objected to numerous comments Mr. Corbett made during the course in 2007.

For example, the teacher said the strong religious beliefs of European peasants helped keep them from improving their position in society. The student said Mr. Corbett also belittled creationism and criticized a teacher who years earlier had been involved in a controversy over promoting creation theories.

Both parties agreed that an AP European history course could not be taught without discussing religion, the court said, and “we have no doubt that the freedom to have a frank discussion about the role of religion in history is an integral part of any advanced history course.”

In addressing religion in a public school classroom, the court said, teachers should be sensitive to students’ personal beliefs but also foster students’ critical-thinking skills.

“This balance is hard to achieve, and we must be careful not to curb intellectual freedom by imposing dogmatic restrictions that chill teachers from adopting the pedagogical methods they believe are most effective,” Judge Raymond C. Fisher wrote in the opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

A version of this article appeared in the August 31, 2011 edition of Education Week as Teacher Can’t Be Sued for Comments on Religion

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Engaging Young Students to Accelerate Math Learning
Join learning scientists and inspiring district leaders, for a timely panel discussion addressing a school district’s approach to doubling and tripling Math gains during Covid. What started as a goal to address learning gaps in
Content provided by Age of Learning & Digital Promise, Harlingen CISD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts High Court Asks Biden Administration Views on Harvard Affirmative Action in Admissions
Some had expected U.S. Supreme Court justices to jump at the chance to reconsider the practices in education, but that's delayed for now.
3 min read
In this Nov. 10, 2020 photo the sun rises behind the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. The Supreme Court seemed concerned Tuesday, Dec. 1, about the impact of siding with food giants Nestle and Cargill and ending a lawsuit that claims they knowingly bought cocoa beans from farms in Africa that used child slave labor. The court was hearing arguments in the case by phone because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.S. Supreme Court is still weighing whether to hear a case challenging Harvard University's race-conscious admissions policies.
Alex Brandon/AP
Law & Courts If Critical Race Theory Is Banned, Are Teachers Protected by the First Amendment?
Bills to rein in how race and other controversial topics are taught have thrust K-12 teachers into a thicket of free speech issues.
10 min read
Image shows a teacher in a classroom.
skynesher/E+
Law & Courts Puerto Rico’s Former Education Secretary Pleads Guilty to Fraud Conspiracy
Julia Keleher pleaded guilty to federal fraud conspiracy charges, striking a felony plea bargain and potentially avoiding maximum jail time.
Syra Ortiz-Blanes, The Miami Herald
4 min read
In this Oct. 13, 2017 file photo, Education Secretary Julia Keleher gets a hug from a student at Ramon Marin Sola Elementary School, in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.
In this Oct. 13, 2017 photo, Education Secretary Julia Keleher hugs a student at Ramon Marín Sola Elementary School, in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. The former education secretary pleaded guilty to two federal fraud conspiracy charges for crimes committed during her time as Puerto Rico’s top education official.
Carlos Giusti/AP
Law & Courts High Court Declines to Hear Ex-Principal's Race-Bias Case Over Transfer to Central Office
The justices also refuse to take up a case challenging the requirement that men, but not women, register for the military draft.
4 min read
In this Nov. 4, 2020 photo, the Supreme Court in Washington.
In this Nov. 4, 2020 photo, the Supreme Court in Washington.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP