History teacher sued over alleged anti-Christian comments

MISSION VIEJO (AP) — A history teacher has been sued for making what one student calls anti-Christian comments in the classroom.

The case has sparked a debate about the role that a teacher’s convictions should play in their lessons.

Capistrano Valley High School sophomore Chad Farnan and his parents filed the lawsuit against James Corbett last week.

They allege that Corbett’s remarks during an advanced European history class violated a clause in the First Amendment that prohibits the government from promoting religious intolerance.

Court papers cited tape-recorded classroom comments that allegedly included Corbett saying, “When you put on your Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth,” and other remarks that troubled Farnan.

Farnan claimed that Corbett’s lessons were one-sided.

But Capistrano Valley junior Doug Kalagian said Corbett, who has taught at the school for 19 years, was being sarcastic “to help prove a point.”

Supporters said Corbett routinely uses tactics in the classroom that question the merits of religion and force students to think about their convictions and faith.

The lawsuit set off passionate reactions from both sides. More than 260 comments were posted on OCRegister.com in response to ongoing story.

“Corbett has been a powerful reminder to me that we Christians’ do not have the monopoly on truth,” Capistrano Valley High geography and history teacher Tom Airey wrote in the Orange County Register’s opinion section. “In an age where there is probably too much emphasis on teaching to the standards and getting the facts’ right, Corbett is training young students to think critically.”

Federal and district guidelines don’t ban teachers from discussing religion, especially in a history class where discussion of religious historical events is common. But teachers are expected to be fair and neither promote nor denigrate religions in their treatment of the topics

“All of his opinions would have been fine with us if he had invited opposing points of view and the class was actually debating,” said parent Birgit O’Hearn, 46, of Mission Viejo, who pulled her daughter out of Corbett’s class this year. “But the opinions he was putting forth are not opinions that are worthy of an instructor.”

School officials were more reserved about passing judgment.

“Obviously, the district will be looking into everyone’s rights and responsibilities, and the safety and welfare of the kids,” Capistrano Unified school board President Mike Darnold said.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday December 17, 2007.
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