Thursday, September 17, 2009

Teacher Awarded Qualified Immunity In Suit For Remark Against Creationism

A long-running lawsuit in which a California high school student and his parents sued history teacher James Corbett for making remarks hostile to religion has finally come to a close. In May, the court found that one of the teacher's comments-- calling Creationism "superstitious nonsense"-- violated the Establishment Clause. (See prior posting.) Then in July, the court held that plaintiffs were not entitled to declaratory or injunctive relief. (See prior posting.) Now, in C.F. v. Capistrano Unified School District, (CD CA, Sept. 15, 2009), a federal district court dismissed the remaining claim for nominal damages after finding that the teacher was entitled to qualified immunity. The court wrote in part:
Public officials must be able to do their jobs without fear that every misstep, however slight, will subject them to liability and the paralysis which goes with such a fear. Thus, the doctrine of qualified immunity looks to whether there was a clearly established right in issue.... The law as it existed in the fall of 2007 did not make clear that a single statement in an area of the law which lacks precision could violate the Constitution. The decision here on the merits advances the clarity of Farnan’s right to be free of anti-religious comments, but the extent of the advance and the results of future applications of the doctrine of qualified immunity in this area are for another day and another court.
The court's disposition of the case also bars future claims by plaintiff for attorneys' fees and costs. The OC Register reported on the decision and indicated that plaintiffs plan an appeal to the 9th Circuit.