Rodney LeVake Loses Appeal
Rodney LeVake has again failed in his effort to argue that he had free exercise, free speech, and due process rights to teach "evidence against evolution". On May 8, 2001, the Minnesota Appeals Court supported the summary judgment dismissal decision of the Minnesota District Court of last year (see RNCSE 2000; 20 [1-2]: 13-14).
Regarding the free exercise of religion claim, the Appeals Court wrote:
It is unclear on what basis LeVake argues that his right to free exercise of religion was violated. LeVake does not contend that respondents prohibited him from practicing the religion of his choice. He does not assert that respondents demanded that he refrain from practicing his religion outside of the scope of his duties as a public school teacher in order to retain his teaching position, and he does not assert that the curriculum requirements incidentally infringed on his religious practice.
Regarding the free speech argument, the Court supported the right of the district to determine curriculum, a position supported with abundant case law:
The classroom is a "marketplace of ideas," and academic freedom should be safeguarded. But LeVake, in his role as a public school teacher rather than as a private citizen, wanted to discuss the criticisms of evolution. LeVake's position paper established that he does not believe the theory of evolution is credible. Further, LeVake's proposed method of teaching evolution is in direct conflict with respondents' curriculum requirements. Accordingly, the established curriculum and LeVake's responsibility as a public school teacher to teach evolution in the manner prescribed by the curriculum overrides his First Amendment rights as a public citizen. [Citations omitted.]
Regarding the due process claim, the Court wrote:
The school board may regulate a teacher's speech in the classroom if it has provided the teacher with specific notice of what conduct is prohibited. LeVake's due process claim is premised on his belief that respondents deprived him of his liberty interest to teach his class free "from state action which impinges upon and violated his constitutional rights to free speech and free exercise" by failing to provide him with adequate notice of what types of expression were prohibited before reassigning him. The cases LeVake relies on in making this argument involve the termination of teachers, but LeVake was not terminated. In fact, he was not even demoted. Further, before accepting the position to teach tenth-grade biology, LeVake understood that respondents' prescribed curriculum included teaching students about evolution. LeVake was given sufficient notice about what he could and could not teach through the established curriculum and the syllabus. [Citations omitted.]
Concluding the decision, the Court wrote:
Because LeVake's position paper and his statement to Hubert make it clear that LeVake would not teach the required course curriculum in the manner established by the school board, LeVake has not presented any genuine issue of material fact regarding his free exercise, free speech, and due process claims. Thus, the district court did not err in granting respondents' motion for summary judgment.
For the complete text of the decision, see http://www.lawlibrary.state.mn.us/archive/ctappub/0105/c8001613.htm>.
Author(s): Eugenie C Scott Volume: 20 Issue: 5 Year: 2000 Date: September–October Page(s): 8–9