Wednesday, September 28, 2005

When "Intelligent Design" meets really stupid people.

As the first in what should be a few posts on the current brouhaha regarding the teaching of "Intelligent Design" in public schools, let me dispense utterly with what is becoming an annoyingly common talking point -- that teachers in the United States have the right to introduce Intelligent Design into their classroom content because of their inherent right to free speech as guaranteed by the U. S. Constitution. (You can see the wingnuts all over this talking point in places like this, where rational discourse is nowhere to be found.)

Bullshit. Those teachers have no such right, and they never have.

Using just common sense, it should be obvious that public school teachers don't have the freedom to wax eloquent on anything they want in a classroom setting. A calculus teacher couldn't, for instance, suddenly change gears in mid-class and start extolling the virtues of Scientology. That you actually have to explain this to people is a depressing sign of the increasing rarity of critical thinking ability.

But you don't even need to use logic for this -- you can simply fall back on legal precedent as this argument has been tried before, and it's received the savage beating it so richly deserves. Consider the case of one John E. Peloza, who tried to get away with the "free speech" argument for creationism back in 1994.

You can scroll down yourself to read the "Free Speech" section, but I'll reproduce the salient bit here, in which the court lets Peloza know in no uncertain terms that he has no case with respect to free speech (emphasis added):

The school district's restriction on Peloza's ability to talk with students about religion during the school day is a restriction on his right of free speech. Nevertheless, "the Court has repeatedly emphasized the need for allowing the comprehensive authority of the States and of school officials, consistent with fundamental constitutional safeguards, to prescribe and control conduct in the schools." Tinker V. Des Moines Indep. Community School Dist, 393 U.S. 503, 506-O7, 89 S.Ct. 733, 737, 21 L.Ed.2d 731 (1969). "[T]he interest of the State in avoiding an Establishment Clause violation 'may be [a] compelling' one justifying an abridgment of free speech otherwise protected by the First Amendment...." Lamb's Chapel V. Center Moriches Union Free School Dist., - U.S., 113 S.Ct. 2141, 2148, 124 L.Ed.2d 352 (1993) (quoting Widmar V. Vincent, 4M U.S. 263, 271, 102 S.Ct. 269, 275, 70 L.Ed.2d 440 (1981)). This principle applies in this case. The school district's interest in avoiding an Establishment Clause violation trumps Peloza's right to free speech.

While at the high school, whether he is in the classroom or outside of it during contract time, Peloza is not just any ordinary citizen. He is a teacher. He is one of those especially respected persons chosen to teach in the high school's classroom. He is clothed with the mantle of one who imparts knowledge and wisdom. His expressions of opinion are all the more believable because he is a teacher. The likelihood of high school students equating his views with those of the school is substantial. To permit him to discuss his religious beliefs with students during school time on school grounds would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Such speech would not have a secular purpose, would have the primary effect of advancing religion, and would entangle the school with religion. In sum, it would flunk all three parts of the test articulated in Lemon V. Kurtzman,-403 U.S. 602, 91 S.Ct. 21O5, 29 L.Ed.2d 745 (1971). See Roberts V. Madigan, 921 F.2d 1047, 1O56-58 (loth Cir.1990) (teacher could be prohibited from reading Bible during silent reading period, and from stocking two books on Christianity on shelves, because these things could leave students with the impression that Christianity was officially sanctioned), cert. denied, -U.S. -, 112 S.Ct. 3025,120 L.Ed.2d 896 (1992).

The district court did not err in dismissing the part of Peloza's section 1983 claim that was predicated on an alleged violation of his right to free speech under the First Amendment.

So, no "free speech" argument. Period.

But wait, you say. That ruling was based on the understanding that "creationism" was a religious viewpoint and, if one proposes that Intelligent Design isn't religion but science instead, then the ruling wouldn't apply, would it?

In fact, that's a good point, but it would introduce another problem. If ID supporters want to bypass the Peloza case and claim that ID is science and nothing more, then they can't simultaneously claim that not being allowed to teach it infringes on their freedom of religious exercise, can they? Can't have it both ways, as they say.

And, no, we're not done here.

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