The National Center for Science Education is celebrating the vindication of James Corbett, a California high-school teacher who characterized creationism as “[religious,] superstitious nonsense.” A federal district court found that he had engaged in “improper disapproval of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.” But a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has
[Mindful that there has never been any prior reported case holding that a teacher violated the Constitution under comparable circumstances, we affirm the district court’s conclusion that the teacher is entitled to qualified immunity. Because it is readily apparent that the law was not clearly established at the time of the events in question, and because we may resolve the appeal on that basis alone, we decline to pass upon the constitutionality of the teacher’s challenged statements.]So what’s scary about this?
But teachers must also be given leeway to challenge students to foster critical thinking skills and develop their analytical abilities. 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.