Activists continue to use the worn-out phrase “separation of church and state” to eject religious expression from the public square. But the Establishment Clause cuts both ways, prohibiting government hostility toward religion as well as the open endorsement that ruffles unbelieving feathers.
Advocates for Faith and Freedom is a fine Christian organization in Southern California that has been litigating Farnan v. Capistrano Unified School District. (See http://www.faith-freedom.com.) The plaintiff is Chad Farnan, a courageous Christian high school student who brought a case against his Advanced Placement European History teacher. The teacher repeatedly ridiculed Chad’s faith: “When you put on your Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth.” A federal district judge issued a favorable ruling, finding an Establishment Clause violation when the teacher expressed “an unequivocal belief that creationism is ‘superstitious nonsense.'” Unfortunately, the Ninth Circuit decided to skirt the constitutional issue. The Court admitted that a teacher’s hostile comments about religion might cross the line, but granted immunity to the teacher because they could “not conclude that a reasonable teacher standing in [the teacher’s] shoes would have been on notice that his actions might be unconstitutional.”
Advocates for Faith and Freedom summed it up well: “Just as public school teachers are not allowed to promote one religion in the classroom, they should not be able to use their classrooms as a platform to attack religion because the pendulum swings both ways.” A.F.F. will seek further review in the Ninth Circuit, then petition the U.S. Supreme Court if that is unsuccessful. Let’s pray that one of these courts gets it right. The pendulum swings both ways—no endorsement, no hostility.