ACLU threatens suit over creation science course in night school
A news article in the NY Times said,
Why not teach an evening course on “creation science,” the thinking religious man’s antidote to mass-market Darwinism — Mr. Harrison views the theory of evolution as the backbone of atheism — in the Northport school district’s continuing education program for adults. He’d even buy the books . . .
. . . . The autumn 2006 debut of Mr. Harrison’s creation science class provoked complaints from some Northport residents; his autumn 2007 return just may provoke litigation.
The local antipathy toward his topic — and his right to teach it on school property — has sparked the threat of a legal challenge to the Northport school district from the Suffolk County branch of the New York Civil Liberties Union. Ironic?
Well, Mr. Harrison is less than stunned. “There is a pattern with them of looking to limit free speech of a religious nature,” he says. He has an acronym for the group: the Anti-Christian Lawsuit Union.
“This kind of thing is dangerous,” countered Seth Muraskin, the executive director of the N.Y.C.L.U.’s Suffolk office. This month he notified the Northport school board by letter and in person that he might sue if it continues to offer Mr. Harrison’s course . . .
According to Mr. Muraskin, holding the class at a public school violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment. “If they were teaching it to kids during the day,” he says, “there would be yelling and screaming all over the place.”
The fact that it is being taught to adults at night has not mitigated the yelling and screaming. Mr. Muraskin entered the fray this year after being contacted by a frustrated parent from the district, Stephen Uzzo, who happens to be the director of technology for the New York Hall of Science.
Mr. Harrison, 51, pitched his curriculum for the fall 2006 semester and it was accepted, but after vetting by the district’s law firm, a disclaimer was added to the course brochure to make clear that the district does not select the topics for the program. It emphasizes that “none of the views presented in the classes should be interpreted as endorsed by the district.” . . .
Warren H. Richmond III of Ingerman Smith L.L.P., the law firm representing the district, said it had never rejected any topic for the continuing education program, which also offers a philosophy course called Problem Solving Through Buddhism.
“But is that a religion or a science or a philosophy; who knows?” Mr. Richmond asked. “In our opinion, the free speech aspect of this situation trumps the establishment clause; I sort of think the N.Y.C.L.U. is being anti-free speech. The whole idea of the First Amendment is that even stupid ideas have a right to be heard.”
The district is, he fears, in a “damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t” position, litigation-wise; prohibit Mr. Harrison’s class, and religious right-leaning law firms will leap at the chance to sue. “Either way, we’ll probably end up in litigation,” Mr. Richmond says. Happy thought, if you’re a lawyer. . . .
. . . .Mr. Harrison notified the district that he does not plan to teach the course for the spring semester. Scared off by the N.Y.C.L.U.? No. He cites an overcrowded schedule. He fully intends to returns to the classroom next fall for year No. 3 of “What Is Creation Science?”
Mr. Muraskin, be forewarned: “To not allow the course to be taught would fall under viewpoint discrimination,” Mr. Harrison says. “I’ve done my First Amendment research, too.”
IMO this creation science course is on solid constitutional ground according to the Supreme Court's decision in Lamb's Chapel v. Ctr. Moriches Union Free Sch. Dist. (91-2024), 508 U.S. 384 (1993).
The ACLU tends to not be supportive of civil liberties that are or that the ACLU considers to be of the nature of free exercise of religion.
The threat of lawsuits from both sides here is a good reason for passage of a law capping attorney fee awards in both establishment clause and free exercise clause cases.
Labels: Establishment clause (new #1)