5 Looks at the Appellate Victory for Capo Valley High Teacher James Corbett Through Jesus Glasses

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Corbett
UPDATE, AUG. 23, 8:06 A.M.: Just want to give our morning readers a heads up to the debate going on in the comments section to this post from yesterday afternoon, featuring Mr. James "Jesus Glasses" Corbett himself (or someone identifying him/herself as the history teacher at the center of the case).

ORIGINAL POST, AUG. 22, 3:46 P.M.: The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled Friday in favor of Capistrano Valley High School history teacher James Corbett, who former student Chad Farnan had sued for disparaging his Christian religion with remarks like, "When you put on your Jesus glasses, you can't see the truth." 

Below are five reactions to the ruling, which essentially states Corbett could not have known whether he was overstepping his bounds because no markers were set in previous rulings.

But first, a quick backgrounder: During Advanced Placement European History lessons at the Mission Viejo high school, Corbett had made comments like this: "The people who want to make the argument that God did it, there is as much evidence that God did it as there is that there is a gigantic spaghetti monster living behind the moon who did it. When you put on your Jesus glasses, you can't see the truth."

The three-judge panel, which heard oral arguments from each side's attorneys in February, said in its 24-page opinion (which you can read here) that a teacher's comments may sometimes rise to the level of unconstitutional hostility, "[b]ut without any cases illuminating the 'dimly perceive[d] . . . line of demarcation' between permissible and impermissible discussion of religion in a college-level history class, we cannot conclude that a reasonable teacher standing in Corbett's shoes would have been on notice that his actions might be unconstitutional."


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Photo by Keith May/OC Weekly
James Corbett, like Chad Farnan, reportedly attends church services.
"My classes have Jews, Hindus, Bahai, Muslims, Buddhists, and others. Chad would demand a special place for his views, but in America, all beliefs should be treated equally by government."
-Corbett (via Orange County Register)

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"This looks like a solid win for Corbett, and a wash-out for the creationist student.  . . Chad's lawyers can still run around staging fund-raisers to keep their activities going, but we imagine Dr. Corbett is feeling rather good about the opinion. Unless Chad and his lawyers try to get the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, it's over. And it's a happy ending."
-The Sensuous Curmudgeon (via The Sensuous Curmudgeon)

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33 comments
Randy R.
Randy R.

And thanks for coining the "Jesus glasses" term, something we still use to this day.

Randy R.
Randy R.

Justice! Chad shot himself in the foot in his testimony. Very inarticulate and ignorant, he has no idea what the Socratic method is and didn't even know what a prerequisite is. How did this guy get into college?

KC
KC

This made my day.  Jesus Glasses.  Rad.   

Dr. GS Hurd
Dr. GS Hurd

The list of 20 or so remarks that the Farnan complaint included can be read in 1/15/08: Plaintiff's amended complaint.   All the court documents are available on-line at the National Center for Science Education. http://ncse.com/creationism/le...

The original trial judge found all but one to be either irrelevant to Farnan's complaint, or to be permissible. The one single reservation was from the statement Corbett made regarding former teacher Peloza who was disciplined by Capistrano Unified for teaching creationism in his biology courses. This is the remark;

I was the adviser to the student newspaper. In hisclasses, [Peloza] was not telling the kids the scientifictruth about evolution. He was hinting to kids inhis class that there’s another explanation, and heinvited kids to his home so they could hear the truth,the Biblical truth about all this. And he came in atlunch and had meetings at lunch with kids whowanted to believe in creationism. And, anyway, myeditor wrote an editorial in which she inferred [sic]that [Peloza] was not teaching science in his biologyclassroom. Instead, he was teaching religion.He sued me as the advisor to the paper for five million,as a matter of fact. He also, on another issue,sued several other members of the faculty herebecause he claimed that he had the right under rulesof academic freedom, because he was a fully qualifiedbiology teacher, to teach biology any way he saw fit as a qualified teacher. . . .

[T]he school district hired an attorney to defend us.And at the first meeting, the school district’s attorney,my attorney, said, “First thing we need you allto do, we do not need to make any more public statementsabout this until the lawsuit is over.” At thatpoint, I stood up and said, “I’ll tell you what. I willsign a statement giving you — you do not have todefend me, but I will not leave John [Peloza] aloneto propagandize kids with this religious, superstitiousnonsense. . . . John wanted to talk about creationas a science and all that stuff, but you getinvolved in that argument, you just lose because it’sjust nonsense. . . .

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals published their decision that Corbett was not vulnerable to the claim that his classroom statements violated the First Amendment rights of a former student, Chad Farnan based on "qualified immunity." It was this immunity argument, and not the constitutionality of Corbett's statements or any other action that dismissed the claims against Corbett.

My personal concern is that creationist teachers can now use the same argument to teach creationism in their classrooms.

HappyGoLuckyBrightNSunny
HappyGoLuckyBrightNSunny

Well done sir. You are a man of character and reality. I, personally, am grateful to have been given the opportunity to see another *light* with regards to teaching in my school. I would have appreciated a leader like you in my youth. Far too many beliefs are thrust upon us, especially at such a young, malleable age.

"Hook 'em while they're young! Gotta fill those pews people." "Sounds like the tobacco industry." "God, if only we had their numbers." ~ George Carlin/Chris Rock (via Dogma)

Many Americans forget what the foundations of our political, or rather, our governmental system were/are based on. America is NOT a theocracy. We harbor people from many cultures, countries, races and faiths. That is what America is. America is open to all. To be free to believe; or not. We must be open to reality and truth. I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Corbett, not because of my personal views, but because I am an American. Born and raised in OC. So, I say to you, Well Done Sir! As another poster stated above: "Don't preach, teach." Teach. It's how we learn; both from teachers and students. I bid you Peace.

Don't Preach, TEACH!
Don't Preach, TEACH!

I appreciate the idea of teaching critical thinking, but this was not teaching "Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool." "When you put on your Jesus glasses, you can't see the truth." "the New Testament is christian superstition” That is not intellectual debate, it's just mean and shuts down the debate when delivered from an authority to minors.

This teacher is a coward also because he only specifically degrades christians, and never muslims, jews, etc. Also a bully because kids are nowhere close to his intellectual peers. This is Mike Tyson vs Average Joe. Kids need his help not his heavy agenda backhand.

Farnan's mistake was this should have been taken up with the Capo school district board directly, not the courts. Corbett was way off the approved curriculum with his agenda-based "teaching".

Paul Pfluger was a great teacher in the 80's at Capo Valley HS and Corbett should look him up to learn how to do this right.

James "Jesus Glasses" Corbett
James "Jesus Glasses" Corbett

TheCourt's opinion was more than gratifying, it was a victory for freethought and academic freedom.   The 9th Circuitaffirmed that in America, no religion has a right to demand that teachers deferto their beliefs.  If that were true, teaching would become aConstitutional minefield.  The Court held that “teachers must be given leewayto challenge students to foster critical thinking skills and develop theiranalytical abilities.” Chad’s lawyers argued that questioning “Creation Science”violated the First Amendment, but American law gives no special place to anyreligion.  One person’s religion is another person’ssuperstition.   To Jews, Muslims, Hindus and dozens of other religions,the New Testament is “Christian Superstition,” just as their views aresuperstition to Christians.  When I referred to a religious belief as“superstition,” I sought to show respect for all by favoring none.  Myclasses have Jews, Hindus, Bahai, Muslims, Buddhists, and others.  Chadwould demand a special place for his views, but in America, all beliefs shouldbe treated equally by government.

The onething that bothers me most about this case is that neither Chad nor his parentsnor the so-called Advocates for Faith and Freedom, ever made an effort to talkwith me before filing the suit.  In my view, they were all more interestedin gaining publicity for themselves, and donations for the Advocates, than inprotecting Chad’s rights.  They cost our schools hundreds of thousands of dollars when thewhole thing could have been settled with a phone call that they nevermade. 

 

Finally,here are two stanzas from Robert Service Poem (Reagan's favorite poet) thathave been with me for 50 years--since my father read it to me when I was ateenager, At the time he was fighting the blacklisters who called him a Communist for working against a fundamentalist takeover of the Anaheim School Board

"Carry On"And so in the strife of the battle of lifeIt’s easy to fight when you’re winning;It’s easy to slave, and starve and be brave,When the dawn of success is beginning.But the man who can meet despair and defeatWith a cheer, there’s the man of God’s choosing;The man who can fight to Heaven’s own heightIs the man who can fight when he’s losing.   Carry on! Carry on!   Fight the goodfight and true;Believe in your mission, greetlife with a cheer;There’s big work to do, andthat’s why you are here.  Carry on! Carry on!   Let the world bethe better for you;And at last when you die, letthis be your cry!JimCorbett

20ftJesus
20ftJesus

Corbett describes himself as a "smorgasbord Catholic" and has worn a Celtic cross around his neck for over 50 years.  He even attends church on occasion.  He's not anti-Christian; he's more anti-BS. 

(le vrai) mitch young
(le vrai) mitch young

I don't think this sort of stuff belongs in court, but this Corbett sounds like a typical anti-Xian prig so common in Academia. He knows better that to say: when you put on your 'Mohammad' glasses, and certainly 'when you put on your Kosher glasses'. He would have been canned already. In fact, this guy seems too biased to be teaching AP European history, which is mostly Christian history. You don't have to share those beliefs to understand a culture, but outright hostility to the culture is not a recipe for an enlightening course of instruction.

And given that (at least nominal) Christians both founded this country and are the overwhelming majority is still Christian, those believes should get more attention than those others.

20ftJesus
20ftJesus

Thank God for the Appellate Court.  Umm, that didn't come out right. 

Dweezle.Di
Dweezle.Di

It is nice to see rationality prevail for a change.

SKR
SKR

Academic freedom means that the ideas of those who believe in science as fervently as those who believe in God can also be challenged and debated.  No one should have to worry about being sued, fired or failed because of their personal beliefs.

James Corbett
James Corbett

The New Test. IS Christian superstition, just as the Old Test. is Jewish superstition, and the Koran Muslim superstition.  Actually, I have taught about the problems with fundamentalism of all religions.  Everyone's religion is "superstition" to those who don't believe.  Would you have me favor the Christian version in a class that has Buddhists, Muslims, Bahai, Jews, and several sorts of Christians?  If so, you're un-American.  In America, no religion is favored, no religion is disfavored.

historyteach
historyteach

Amen, brother!!!!  Pflueger was feisty and challenging but not rude, careless, and insensitive.  I owe my entire college education to the critical thought and writing skills I learned in Pflueger and have now become a Social Studies teacher in secondary as well.  I understand what "Jesus glasses" intent was but what a horrific way of approaching things.   The Farnan kid is just a DOUCHE BAG that latched on to Corbett's inflammatory words.

Jeremiah
Jeremiah

I take offense to the statement that the students were not his intellectual peers. His classrooms were filled with some of the brightest minds Ive ever met. No disrespect to Paul pfluger, but they are not in the same league. All I hear are people criticizing concepts and conversations that they can barely understand. Your offended by challenges to your religion because you dont have the mental faculties or verbal toolbox in order to defend your "beliefs". All of you close minded, solipsistic, leggings are like a abused dog who's only response is to lashout at any irritation. Did you take his course? Do you know the man? I would love to take a couple of your most choice phases you have thrown out during your lifetime and open its to the ridiculous opinions of the unwashed, faceless masses.

The only thing that may have changed in my opinion of Corbett as I've gotten older is that I feel confident that I could drink him under the table now. His character should not even be a discussion.

Jeremiah

Jay
Jay

This.

Lowski
Lowski

Dr. Corbett's attempt at fostering critical thinking skills seems to need a little work. Rather than antagonizing his students, maybe he should seek other avenues that don't fall flat on their face and make him come off as a elitist jerk.

(le vrai) mitch young
(le vrai) mitch young

Fair enough, if he was just trying to provoke debate or whatever. Still, if he wants to keep his job, better not give Jews or Muslims the same treatment.

Dr. GS Hurd
Dr. GS Hurd

(le vrai) mitch young,

Your remarks are absurd. First, Corbett's distain was directed toward fundamentalist creationism, not Christianity.

Second, the "Jesus glasses" remark was directly related to European peasants who acted against their own interests when provoked by Christian clergy supporting the nobility. (You know, those rich people the American revolution opposed).

Third, the Renaissance was hugely the product of Jewish translators of "Moorish" books into Latin.

But far worse is your anti-American assertion that a religious faction has the right to dictate American laws. Did you ever read the Constitution?

James "Jesus Glasses" Corbett
James "Jesus Glasses" Corbett

Actually, I worked in Beirut and used the same "modified Socratic" method there as I do here, and, yes, it upset some fundamentalists Muslims.  All religions see every other religion as superstitious nonsense--and I agree with all of them

James Corbett
James Corbett

You're sure right about drinking, I'm a real lightweight.

historyteach
historyteach

Pflueger was a LEGEND that they ran out of town as well.  Yes, I never had Corbett as a teacher but he always gave both sides of every argument/debate/story and equipped you to come up with your own conclusions in such an artful way that Corbett seems pretty lacking here.

Don't Preach, TEACH!
Don't Preach, TEACH!

Religion is 100% ridiculous that is why people have circular arguments about it.  Corbett is not their intellectual peer, he holds advanced degrees including a doctorate and 40 years more living. These kids are still smart in spite of Corbett's agenda.

James "Jesus Glasses" Corbett
James "Jesus Glasses" Corbett

I've had ONE complaint in 23 years.  This student, who admitted he didn't do his homework and, according to his classmates, regularly slept, may have had reasons for illegally recording my class and his lawyers may have had reasons of their own in filing the suit, without ever bothering to even contact me.  Frankly, I think Chad like the publicity he got for "Standing up for Jesus" and the Advocates just loved fleecing the faithful with appeals for funds based on Chad's lies.

James "Jesus Glasses" Corbett
James "Jesus Glasses" Corbett

Actually, you don't know what you're talking about.  I taught in Beirut, Lebanon and used the same "modified Socratic" method I now use.  And, yes, fundamentalist Muslims were sometimes upset.  Opening minds is a dangerous business, no matter the religion of the subject.

(le vrai) mitch young
(le vrai) mitch young

Well, if you did do that in Beirut I'd say you were brave or foolhardy.

However, you point is just  not true. Read some C.S. Lewis -- he sees some other religions as seeing more imperfectly what Christianity sees more perfectly.  And he is pretty close to the Catholic church's official position on many other religions.

James Corbett
James Corbett

Actually, you, too, are mistaken. You would have no knowledge of any complaints in any event, they are confidential. I'll bet that you were not in my class and just heard gossip from others.  It may surprise you, but kids often exaggerate. I won't call you a liar because you may believe what you wrote is true.  Every teacher has minor complaints at times, including myself.  In every case, after discussion, the parent went away satisfied with my explanation.  Had they not been satisfied, they have the right to file a complaint with the administration.  In 23 years, none filed such a complaint.  I will admit that I've had several "anonymous" complaints over the years, quite a few since Chad filed the case.   None have had the courage to actually come out from under their rocks and do anything more than snipe.  Since Chad, many, according to IP addresses came from brilliant citizens of the American South.  BTW, if Chad had been something more than utterly incapable of processing anything that contradicted his, rather loopy, beliefs, I'm confident a short discussion would have resolved his problem.  Do you know that Chad believes every word of the Bible is LITERALLY true?  How, exactly, could a teacher avoid offending such a student?  Teach tolerance and they object to "tolerating gays" (Lividicus)  Teach equality of the genders and they object (Ephesians and Corinthians).  Teach geology and they object (Genesis).  Teach that the perceived nature of Jesus has changed over the centuries and they object (Jesus never changes).  Chad actually said he KNEW the flood happened because he saw it on the History Channel.  I presume he also believes in Ancient Aliens, Nostradamus, the Mysteries of the Great Pyramid, Atlantis, and a host of other superstitious, often religious, nonsense that is purveyed by the History Channel.  

Jeditherapist
Jeditherapist

Actually I attended CAPO and I fondly remember MORE THAN ONE complaint from various students in your classes (before this case was ever opened). Just because students didn't pursue litigation in the past doesn't mean you've never had a student that wasn't offended by something you've said in the history of your teaching. That is ridiculous. 

James "Jesus Glasses" Corbett
James "Jesus Glasses" Corbett

Actually, I taught, using the same techniques, in BEIRUT during the early 80s, and, yes, some Muslim fundamentalists got upset. You see opening minds requires teachers to take some risk.

(le vrai) mitch young
(le vrai) mitch young

Try it here -- go after Jewish or Muslim beliefs here. Then let's see what happens.

mitch young
mitch young

I just read the original complaint. I didn't see anything attacking Muslims specifically, though he did attack religion in general ("asking for divine help is like as for help from the spaghetti monster -- you effing original") and Christianity specifically ("Jesus glasses").

Strange thing is the complaint is not mostly about Xianity -- it is just conventional liberal pap. For instance, Corbett makes much of the US having a high crime rate and high church attendance, and Sweden having low crime and low church attendance. Bu ttht is a spurious correlation. Sweden, for example, doesn't have many black people, the US does. And black people are seven times more likely to commit violent crimes than whites in the US (note: that is still a very small minority of blacks, but we are talking crime rates here). Now if Corbett was really truthful, and really brave, he would have accounted for the high number of blacks, and the corresponding high crime rate in the US. But he didn't, so at best he was misleading, as worst intentional lying to his charges. (Of course, what all this has to do with AP European history is beyond me.)

Dr. GS Hurd
Dr. GS Hurd

In one of the statements that so offended young Farnan that his Christian faith was threatened, and he was afraid to attend school (see the Plaintiff Complaint), Dr. Corbett in fact did chastise fundamentalist Muslims along with their mirror-image Christian brothers.

(le vrai) mitch young
(le vrai) mitch young

Then again, while he may have risked life and limb in Beirut, I still think such harsh words about Jewish or Muslim beliefs will get him fired here -- I invite him to try it this coming school year.

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