Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Teaching Creationism in Adult Ed

The New York Times reports on a creationism class being taught in adult education in a Long Island school district. The NY Civil Liberties Union is threatening a lawsuit, as well they should. Robert Harrison taught the class during the fall 2006 semester and it has returned in 2007. The adult ed program is government funded and the class has prompted many complaints. The reaction is predictable:

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.

Oh how terribly clever. But of course this has nothing to do with free speech. Mr. Harrison is perfectly free to advocate creationism all he wants, but he can’t expect the government to fund his speech and provide a classroom for him to teach it to others. The school district’s attorney seems equally clueless:

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.” A prudent preventive move, or so the district assumed.

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.

Does he really think they’re going to get sued for NOT teaching creationism? I doubt even the Thomas More Law Center would be dumb enough to try that; they wouldn’t have a chance in hell of winning it. And of course stupid ideas get to be expressed, but that doesn’t mean the government has to fund them. If that’s the argument he’s going to try in court, he’s gonna get spanked like a belligerent stepchild.