Workers Vanguard No. 939

3 July 2009


Defend Orange County Teacher James Corbett!

For the Teaching of Science! Down With Religious Obscurantism!

LOS ANGELES—On May 1, a federal judge ruled that James Corbett, a 20-year history teacher at Capistrano Valley High School in Orange County, California, violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment—i.e., the separation of church and state. Corbett’s “transgression” was to denounce another teacher at the school, John Peloza, for his efforts to block the teaching of evolution in favor of anti-science “creationism,” which Corbett accurately described as “religious, superstitious nonsense.” The judge outrageously ruled, “Corbett states an unequivocal belief that creationism is ‘superstitious nonsense.’ The Court cannot discern a legitimate secular purpose in this statement, even when considered in context.”

The obvious secular purpose is scientific truth, and the court’s ruling is a dangerous attack on science, free speech and the separation of church and state. It can only embolden the Christian fundamentalists while having a chilling effect on teachers opposed to the promotion of religious obscurantism. As one student said at a 300-strong rally to support Dr. Corbett in December 2007, “It’s hard to teach European history without being somewhat critical of organized religion.”

The lawsuit was brought by Corbett’s former student Chad Farnan and his family. It was planned well in advance, as Farnan secretly recorded many hours of class discussion. Farnan’s family was represented by Advocates for Faith and Freedom, a dubious outfit that seeks out cases specifically to push their goal of an American society with an unquestioning, God-fearing citizenry under the straitjacket of the Puritanical family, where women have no rights that men are required to respect. This group has advocated strongly for Proposition 8 and the Bill Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act, which ban gay marriage in California and federally respectively. They have filed another case in California to deny the right of transgender students to be recognized by their gender identity as opposed to their genitalia. In its mission statement, Advocates for Faith and Freedom concludes: “We recognize that America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. In today’s culture, that foundation is slowly being eroded by legal challenges to traditional family structure, religious freedom, basic property rights, and parental rights, and by other court decisions that have created a society increasingly devoid of the message and influence of God.”

These religious bigots to the contrary, many of the “founding fathers” (those who owned slaves and those who didn’t) were products of the Enlightenment and deists who, while believing that a god created the universe, rejected the Judeo-Christian concepts of faith, miracles and divine intervention. In an opinion piece printed in the Orange County Register (8 May), Dr. Corbett quoted James Madison, coauthor of the U.S. Constitution, “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise, every expanded prospect.” But the bourgeoisie the world over has long ceased being the revolutionary class it once was. One can look at Barack Obama, who, while promising to “restore science to its rightful place,” peppered his Cairo speech with references to the Bible, Talmud and Koran, and concluded, “May God’s peace be upon you.” An opponent of gay marriage, Obama has also made clear his support to the Defense of Marriage Act.

While the teaching of evolution in the schools has been under attack since the infamous 1925 Scopes trial, it was the efforts to regiment the population into social conformity during the Reagan years of the 1980s that have ushered in nearly 30 years of attacks on science and the gains of the Enlightenment. This picked up further steam with the election of George W. Bush in 2000, leading to challenges to the teaching of evolution in 43 states.

Against such reactionary efforts, the Spartacist League and Partisan Defense Committee submitted an amici curiae brief in 1985 to the United States Supreme Court against a Louisiana law mandating the teaching of creationism. We wrote:

“This country used to be notable for the relatively democratic nature of public education—largely a product of the Civil War and struggles by an ethnically diverse working class for social reform. Today there is an all sided assault on public education, of which the current attack, if successful, will render future generations ignorant and prey to the superstitions of our ancestors.”

In the brief, we pointed to a statement by historic American Trotskyist James P. Cannon, who wrote in 1951, on the occasion of a proposal to appoint a U.S. ambassador to the Vatican:

“Under...the First Amendment, free thinkers and atheists, heathens and public sinners, who are very numerous in this country, have had a chance to breathe and spread enlightenment without fear of the dungeon and the rack. The First Amendment has been a protecting shield for the Children of Light and has enabled them to make their great contributions to literature, art and science. A breach in this provision of the Constitution, leading to its eventual repeal, would be an unspeakable calamity aiding and strengthening the forces of reaction and obscurantism here and all over the world.”

—“Church and State,” reprinted in Notebook of an Agitator (1958)

Under capitalism, the schools are supposed to inculcate the views of the ruling class in the next generation and help promote their regimentation in bourgeois society. What the judge really meant when he ruled that Dr. Corbett violated the separation of church and state is that he deviated from this judge’s view of the means by which teachers are supposed to carry out this function.

Dr. Corbett, who may still appeal the ruling, faces possible monetary damages and an injunction against making any future statements disparaging religion. Furthermore, he might still face discipline from the campus administration. We demand: Drop all charges against Dr. James Corbett! For the teaching of evolution, not “creationism”—or its PC guise, “intelligent design”—in public schools!