Jesus Glasses May 1, 2008

Jesus Glasses

It doesn’t matter if you’re an atheist or Christian or Muslim.

If you’re teaching high school students, don’t tell the kids your personal thoughts on religion. It just makes everyone uncomfortable.

Chad Farnan, a sophomore at Capistrano Valley High School, claims his Advanced Placement European history teacher, James Corbett, made hostile remarks toward Christianity. The Christian student cites an incident from last December when Corbett stated that conservatives do not want women to avoid pregnancies because that interferes with God’s work. In another statement, recorded by Farnan, the teacher claimed that when people put on their “Jesus glasses,” they cannot see the truth.

“These are anti-Christian diatribes by this teacher pretty much almost every day in class,” says the attorney [Jennifer Monk]. In addition to the comments about “Jesus glasses,” says Monk, “he’s said things like ‘Aristotle argued that there has to be a god. Of course, that’s nonsense.'”

Doesn’t matter whether you agree with him or not. Those comments don’t have a place in the classroom.

It all happened several months ago. You can read the case (and the teacher’s statements) here (PDF).

In the most recent update to the case, a federal judge has allowed the California Teachers Association to represent the teacher and district.

There are a couple parallels with Matthew LaClair‘s case — Matthew is the high school student who had a few run-ins with a fundamentalist Christian teacher who preached his personal religious views in class. Like Matthew, Farnan also tape recorded his teacher. And once again, both teacher and student are getting hate mail from both sides.

Still, without knowing more details to the case, it seems like the teacher was in the wrong. I’d side with the student.

Is there any reason not to?

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • Yes. Or at the very least, tell your view only in the context of permitting discussion, certainly not mocking someone else’s beliefs. My 10th grade biology teacher taught a bunch of ideas about the origin of life, including naturalistic ones, and only then told us he was a strict creationist. (And it wasn’t on the test.)

  • Cathy

    I read over his statements on the PDF, I don’t think statements b (on the boy scouts, since they do explicitly have those policies) and h (on whether harsh punishment works with drug control-he didn’t even mention religion) violate someone’s rights, but in plenty of the others, he wasn’t just agressive, he was off topic (and sometimes factually incorrect if the Aristotle thing is any judge. Aristotle was a polytheist, he didn’t argue for the existence of the classical conception of God). The deaf thing offended me and I’m an atheist. A friend of mine is engaged to a deaf man and the deaf in this country have enough trouble without being ridiculed.

  • I agree. Teachers need to keep their thoughts on religion out of the classroom, no matter what they are. I applaud you for being able to take a stand against someone who you fundamentally agree with. It speaks well of your ability to see when wrong is wrong, regardless of which side it’s pushing.

    That’s a lot more than I can say for OneNewsNow.

  • Sudo

    It’s interesting that the teacher’s union is going to represent this teacher. Shouldn’t the union remain neutral in a case like this? I wonder if they would defend a teacher who’s remarks belittled some PC-sacred cow rather than Christianity.

  • mikespeir

    I agree with you. If we’re going to insist schools not endorse religion in the classroom, we should also frown on them pushing irreligion. Like I said while the Dover trial was going on, if they had wanted to affix a sticker to the textbooks with something by Richard Dawkins averring that the findings of science lead to the conclusion that there is no God, I would have thought that wrong, too.

  • Siamang

    I wonder if they would defend a teacher who’s remarks belittled some PC-sacred cow rather than Christianity.

    I take it as similar when a cop shoots an unarmed person. The police union always is there to support the cop.

    It’s a function of a union.

  • Kat

    I’m ok with religion being discussed in context with the history of the world, in some cases in English lit classes, because religion has played a part in the world’s history and a lot of writings.

    What I’m not ok with is teachers inserting their religious beliefs into those discussions.
    I don’t think it’s right for either teacher or student, to state what they believe in a school setting.

    We here in Florida are dealing with the Evolution Academic Freedom Act.
    It would allow science teachers to challenge the theory of evolution in science class.
    The new law would allow teachers to discuss other theories during class, and the bill’s creator actually called creationism and ID, a theory.
    But neither of those is actually a theory.
    A theory is based on empirical scientific evidence.
    That makes evolution a theory, we have scientific evidence to back up the claim of evolution.
    ID or creationism is not, and can not, by definition, be a theory.
    There is absolutely no empirical scientific evidence to back up ID or creationism.

    Hopefully this bill will get shot down just as quickly as the “I Believe” license plates they wanted to start selling to drivers here.
    Lucky for us, the senate rejected it.

  • dammitdoll

    I’ve had some really cool teachers that rather than saying or trying to push what they thought onto everyone, they’d say ‘Of course, we’re all entitled to our own opinions/beliefs’ or ‘for some reason’. Never nasty or malicious though, it was like there way of saying “do you really agree with this? Why do/don’t you?”.

  • Miko

    I’ll agree with most of them being wrong, but:

    1. pointing out that Aristotle’s argument for the existence of a god is nonsense would be perfectly acceptable in, say, a class on logic, because the argument is nonsense. (Although if I were to do this I’d add a caveat that I was just looking at the argument without advancing any views on the conclusion.)
    2. pointing out that historically some religious conservatives (e.g., St. Augustine) have equated women not being pregnant with committing murder would be perfectly acceptable in a certain type of history class. Of course, claiming this view still exists today is much more iffy without sources to back it up.

    So, some of them are just wrong, but some are acceptable in proper contexts, seeing as they are factual statements. I don’t think those situations apply in the current context, however.

  • Grimalkin

    Eh, I reading through, I think a lot of the statements listed aren’t hostile toward Christianity at all. For example:

    “How do you get the peasants to oppose something that is in their best interested? Religion. You have to have something that is irrational to counter that rational approach…” – That’s absolutely true. Bad clergy of all religions have used their religion to manipulate others. The whole Protestant movement is founded on a recognition of that very truth (but, like most break-away movements, it was framed as “they are bad, we’ll be good”). If there’s something more to the context that shows that he was actually aiming his statements at Christianity itself, and not just at the way in which religion has been used, it hasn’t been included in the PDF.

    In the same way, the statements about the Boy Scouts are entirely true. Homosexual children are turned away. If they don’t want to be accused of being homophobic, they can’t exclude people just because they are gay. Again, this isn’t a jab against Christianity. It isn’t even a jab against the Boy Scouts any more than a news report explaining that someone has committed a crime is being, by default, “hostile” toward that individual.

    The Sweden vs America thing is borderline. He’s drawing a connection where he probably shouldn’t. But again, the point he is making is a legitimate one. The US is parading around the world claiming to be the standard to which everyone ought to aspire while having terrible social ills that are going completely unfixed. That is a point that NEEDS to be made. Though, I will admit that he could have gone about it a different way.

    I’ll stop there, but my point is that it doesn’t really look to me like he’s shoving his opinions down anyone’s throats. Most of what he says is fact and the only reason he is getting in trouble for it is because some kid has a vision of reality that doesn’t match up with the world around him. This guy wasn’t preaching. Yes, it’s obvious that he’s probably not Christian, but he wasn’t preaching. And considering the fact that the kid probably reported the worst of what this teacher said, I’d say he is well within acceptable boundaries.

  • Polly

    The teacher was dead wrong. It’s not his job to editorialize about religion. Just present information and thoughtful questions about the role of religion, IF RELEVANT. There’s nothing appropriate about bad-mouthing a particular religion and using history as an excuse.

    It’s not his job to disabuse his students of their religious beliefs, that’s the job of the atheosphere. 🙂

  • There are many controversies worth discussing as a class, perhaps excluding religion. But in my experience (as a student) it always ruins everything if the instructor reveals her opinion, no matter how hard she encourages both sides to contribute.

  • glompix

    In high school classrooms, I agree. In (good) university classrooms, there is room for religious discussion. College is about asking tough, sometimes unanswerable questions, and religion is a part of that. Even in our high-level computer science classes, we would often get on the topic of free will and gods. Maybe this is more of a liberal arts thing, though.

    And yes, it’s always fun to hear a professor passionately talk about how Fellini’s films demonstrate the decreasing relevancy of religion. 🙂 Art and literature is all about readings, and our professor was definitely not out of line in reading nearly every film we watched with an atheist agenda if his reading was well-founded.

  • Ian

    I’m not so sure…

    The comments mentioning Sweden seem to add some context – and I would say it’s pretty much impossible to discuss European History without some reference to religion and European secularism.

    We are, after all, a continent very clearly divided – the secular democracies are wealthy, and the religious nations are quaint little throwbacks with no economy to speak of. In recent years, we have seen Ireland become a much more robust economy (which co-incides with a liberalisation and secularisation of Irish government, as well as a reduction in the power of the church).

    Comparing modern day Sweden – wealthy, high quality of life and completely secular and Poland – poor, miserable and 90% religious is very telling about Europe’s development.

    and the simple fact that he’s right!!

  • eth

    I think it’s a shame to treat high school students like idiots. I think this is a misconception of the principle of separation of church and state – people live in a context that includes religion, and students need to be able to engage with arguments about the Real World within the safety of classroom discussion. Contending that religion alters perception (“Jesus glasses”) is an interesting point, and should simply trigger an interesting discussion – it’s not the equivalent of asking kids to sing hymns in a school assembly.

    Teachers spend hours every week with their students – they’re not going to be able to avoid giving their opinions altogether… perhaps in a maths class it might not come up so often, but classes with a social context won’t be able to avoid these things. I’m also going to guess that he’s perhaps not joined unanimously by his colleagues in his views on religion, which might mean that students will end up hearing both sides of the argument (gasp!).

    Sounds to me like the real issue here is that in not allowing open debate, in banging on his drum over and over again, they guy just doesn’t seem to be a very good teacher! Para 17 of the Complaint says that the teacher “has created an atmosphere where he cannot effectively learn, both because and regardless of his religious beliefs”, and this is where the lines of battle will be drawn, I guess. I think a teacher should be able to discuss these issues in a class without making a student feel this way – IMO it’s not the content that is at fault, however much the Complainant may allege this to be the case, it’s the delivery. A more compassionate teacher would have been able to raise these issues, even using the same examples perhaps, but deliver them in a way that would engage student debate. The statements as recorded in the Complaint sound like demagoguery.

  • Paul LaClair

    In paragraph 14 of the Complaint, only paragraph (a) clearly disparages Farnan’s religion sufficient to constitute a Constitutional violation, from what I can see. Paragraph (i) is the only other one that comes close, but it’s not bad enough to justify legal action. Other of Dr. Corbett’s comments may represent poor pedagogy, but they don’t belong in a legal Complaint. We can’t sue our teachers just because they get their facts wrong or draw conclusions based on insufficient data. And a teacher’s opinions do not violate a student’s religious rights just because they run contrary to the conclusions that a student may draw from his religion. (For example, a teacher arguing a case for abortion rights on secular grounds.) To constitute a violation, the teacher must be advocating or disparaging a religion.

    So while I side with the student to the extent that Dr. Corbett made one comment that clearly crosses the line, what is the remedy? Clearly, Dr. Corbett should not disparage Christianity, and in particular should avoid disparaging phrases like “your Jesus glasses.” But where are the young man’s damages? He doesn’t have any. As for positive injunctive relief, where’s the legal basis for that? There is no legal basis that I know of for insisting that Corbett no longer teach that class, any more than there was a legal basis for insisting that David Paszkiewicz not teach his. And it’s pointless for a court to tell him that he has to follow the law – that’s not legal relief, that’s just an admonition. The school might do that, but that’s not what courts do.

    I am offended by Dr. Corbett’s comments in paragraph (a), being made as they were in a public school. Some of his other remarks are questionable pedagogically, but not legally. So if this is litigated to the end, Farnan may win technically, but the relief will be minimal. For that reason, Farnan’s legal team may choose to settle the case for some concession that both sides can live with. That’s my prediction.

    Yes, I am Matthew LaClair’s dad, and for those of you who do not know me, I am also a practicing attorney for the past thirty years.

  • Vincent

    I agree that a is the only allegation that is disparaging to a religion.
    All that stuff about Sweden is weird but not disparaging of any religion.

    I wonder about the context too. Is it impermissible for a teacher to give his opinion? Would you think differently if each paragraph listed had started with “this is just my opinion, but…”?
    This is an AP history class. I remember taking AP classes (though not history) and I remember there was a lot more freedom for discussion and expression in those classes than in others. You can get college credit for an AP class so it is taught more like a college class. Does that make a difference?

    One significant moment in my deconversion came in college when I suggested that a miracle in a medieval narrative may have been an actual miracle and my prof said something like “if you are asking me to accept that something supernatural occurred, I won’t. I’m just not even going to entertain that.”
    Was he attacking my religion? I don’t think so.

  • Stephen

    I’m glad to see Paul LaClair’s comments. I’m no lawyer, but my immediate impression on reading the complaint was also that it seemed to be very weak grounds for claiming a constitutional violation. Perhaps this is not a very good teacher, but I suspect that several percent of all teachers are just as bad.

    I strongly disagree with the poster who said that a teacher should not state his/her opinion in class, at least if we are talking about older school students. Some of my best teachers felt free to give their opinions, and one teacher who I remember was very careful never to give an opinion on anything was perhaps my worst teacher of all. The important thing is that they manage to draw a line between fact and opinion – indeed that such a distinction exists is one of the most important things one can teach.

    Having said that, under “opinions” I am talking about different ways of looking at the facts. I do not include positions which are in blatant contradiction to the facts (as with creationists).

  • David D.G.

    Paul LaClair,

    May I just say, sir, that YOUR SON ROCKS! I have been incredibly impressed with his activism — and, considering the response your family received from the school and the community, with his bravery, especially to take on a second issue of that nature. Please tell him that, for whatever it’s worth, he has many fans out here.


    As for the original topic, I find that some of this teacher’s comments are quite defensible (e.g., the one about Aristotle), but some are clearly unacceptable (e.g., the “Jesus glasses” comment — there’s no way that’s not demeaning to his Christian students, and while I don’t disagree with him, that kind of expression is not acceptable while on the job for someone in his profession). I would hope that he gets disciplined for this and stays off his classroom soapbox in future (not least because we don’t need to be giving the fundies evidence that teachers *are* teaching atheism!), but I do hope that he doesn’t lose his job over this.

    ~David D.G.

  • What if the teacher is right? I mean, what if the information the teacher is presenting is factually correct yet presents religion in a negative light?

  • Paul LaClair

    vjack, give a specific example. That’s how we did it in law school. We could have a great discussion right here.

    David, thank you. We’re all in it together.

  • cipher

    May I just say, sir, that YOUR SON ROCKS! I

    Seconded. Huge kudos, sir. Your family’s bravery and integrity are greatly admired.

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