Saturday, September 29, 2007

Just being neutral

An adjunct professor at a community college claims that he was fired for telling students that the story of Adam & Eve was a fairy tale and should not be believed. (There was apparently also a question of his classroom manner, but let's put that aside for a moment.)

Under widely held views of the Establishment Clause and the separation of church and state, wasn't the school well within its rights? In fact, might it not be said that it acted prudently?

You could try to argue that the teacher had First Amendment rights to say what he wanted, but the trends in free speech protection for government employees run against that. The fact that he was at a college may help him there, but I am more interested in the Establishment Clause issue than the scope of an academic freedom excepion to the principle of this case (something about which I feel rather sympathetic.) Say he was an elementary or high school teacher. That might leave open a ray of hope for such an argument, but it's probably not much more that a single beam.

In any event, even if he had free speech rights, doesn't the school have a compelling reason to restrict them, i.e., avoiding an Establishment Clause violation?
If it's the duty of the state to remain neutral on questions of religion and not to endorse either religion or irreligion, how can the administrators of the college permit this guy to tell students that their religious beliefs are wrong?


illusory tenant said...

What's the 7th Circuit case? The link is busted.

Anonymous said...

How could he have free speech rights in the classroom if he was speaking outside the curriculum of the class.

Student do not have free speech rights in the classroom and neither should the teachers. Take in into the hall way or someplace else.

Rick Esenberg said...


It's a case called Mayer v. Monroe Community Schools and it applied Garcetti to the case of an elementary school teacher who made some statements to her class about the war in Iraq.


But what if he was within the curriculum?

Anonymous said...

What if he was within the curriculum?

It is hard to imagine that he was, but if he was, then they must allow for all views to be presented, not just an anti-creation view.

Could you imagine a teacher telling students that some people want you to believe that you came from a pile of slime, but its not true.

I think if its presented as free speech that equallity becomes the issue.

Anonymous said...

I had a minute to think about what you're saying and thought I would add that I agree that if a Preacher can't speak at a commemoration, then certainly a teacher cannot preach his anti-religious views to unsuspecting students.

illusory tenant said...

Mayer v. Monroe Community Schools.

Thanks. Raising the Establishment Clause seems a bit of a stretch, however. The teacher's remarks were about as controversial as denying the existence of leprechauns.