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Farnan v. Capistrano Valley School District

In 2007, Chad Farnan, then a student at Capistrano High School in Orange County, CA, brought a case against his Advanced Placement European History teacher.  Farnan had tape recorded numerous lectures for study purposes, but in the meantime, caught his teacher making numerous comments that Farnan argues was an unconstitutional attack on Christianity and religion.  In one instance, his teacher stated, “When you put on your Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth.”  Farnan believed that the teacher was violating Farnan’s First Amendment right by expressing hostility toward religion in violation of the federal Establishment Clause.

In May 2009, a federal District Court judge issued a one-of-a-kind ruling in Farnan’s favor.  The judge held that the teacher violated the Establishment Clause in one instance where he expressed “an unequivocal belief that creationism is ‘superstitious nonsense.’”  This case has been appealed to the Ninth Circuit.

Both parties appealed this case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned the district court’s decision and declared that the teacher involved had definitive qualified immunity – meaning that, since there was no clear precedent of a teacher being held liable for his or her statements, this teacher could not have known that his statements would be unconstitutional.

We then appealed this case to the U.S. Supreme Court, in hopes that they would reconsider the case and provide a final decision in this landmark, precedent-setting case.  However, they have decided not to hear our appeal.

We are disappointed that the highest Court in our nation will not hear this important case, and we agree with Douglas Laycock, a constitutional scholar at the University of Virginia School of Law, who was quoted last year in the Orange County Register:

“They can’t hold the teacher liable because the law was not clearly settled. Because they can’t hold him liable, the law will never become clear on what teachers can say in class.”

Briefing