Federal Judge Rules Teacher is Protected in Talking Smack About Religion

AP European history teacher James Corbett will be allowed to talk shit about (any) religion in his classroom if he feels like it, as long as said shit-talking is done within the context of his history lectures, according to a ruling made by a federal court judge yesterday.

Corbett is the history teacher who skyrocketed to fame (or infamy, depending on your source) after he was sued by former student Chad Farnan in late 2007 for making comments in his class that Farnan felt were insulting to Christians. The roiling case captured national media attention, and prompted fierce student protests in Corbett's defense, when bits and pieces of the tape recordings Farnan illegally made in Corbett's class (including the famous "Jesus Glasses" bit) were broadcast on Fox News and other conservative television and radio shows.

Yesterday's ruling was a blow to Chad Farnan's crusade. The Capistrano Valley High junior was seeking a federal injunction which would have legally prohibited Corbett from making any comments in his classroom that could be perceived as being disparaging of religion (a difficult  task if the subject is European history).

The same judge ruled in May that Corbett had indeed violated the First Amendment with a single statement (out of 20 submitted to the court) made by Corbett which referred to Creationism as "religious, superstitious nonsense" during a fall 2007 lecture (read about that ruling here and here). Although 19 other statements Farnan alleged were insulting to Christians were thrown out by Selna, the ruling had the chilling effect of setting a new national precedent around what teachers could and could not say in their classrooms within the context of their teaching material.

Corbett considered appealing the May ruling, and Farnan proceeded with the request for an injunction. Selna said the proposed injunction could have a "chilling effect" on Corbett's ability to talk about religion in class and that it was "overbroad." The ruling against the injunction means Corbett will not be legally required to tone down his popular, incisive, often divisive classroom lectures. Lectures which, he has said in past exclusive interviews with the Weekly, he gives with the intention of getting his students excited about history and, most importantly in his book, to get them to think.


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