C. F. v. Capistrano USD

In December of 2007, the Farnan family sued the Capistrano Unified School District (Orange County, California), as well as one of its history teachers, James Corbett. The Farnan family charged that various remarks Corbett had made were an "exhibition of hostility toward religion and endorsement of irreligion in a public school classroom," thereby violating the First Amendment rights of their son, Chad ["C.F."], one of Corbett's students. Among the statements attributed to Corbett were, 'Conservatives don't want women to avoid pregnancies — that's interfering with God's work' and 'When you pray for divine intervention, you're hoping that the spaghetti monster will help you get what you want.'"

On May 1, 2009, District Judge James Selna identified only one of Corbett's statements as constitutionally impermissible: namely, his description of creationism as "superstitious nonsense." On July 13, 2009, in a "tentative ruling," Selna denied the Farnans' request for a declaratory judgment or injunction against Corbett or the school district. The case remains open, as questions of nominal damages and attorneys' fees have yet to be determined.

On February 11, 2011, the Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals listened to arguments from both sides whether: 1) the district court erred in finding that one of Corbett's statements violated the "Establishment Clause" of the Constitution; and 2) whether the court erred in granting Corbett and the district 'qualified immunity' from damages. The proceedings are available as an audio recording.

On August 19, 2011, Judge Fisher of the Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Dr. Corbett is indeed entitled to qualified immunity. In so doing, he vacated the lower court's finding against Corbett and the school district. Also, he declined to rule on the constitutionality of the teacher's statements because the issue was resolved "on [the] basis [of qualified immunity] alone".

The plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court which declined to hear the case. [Writ of Certiorari denied 21 February 2012.]

Key legal documents for this case are provided at the bottom of this page. They are arranged in chronological order.

 


 

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