Rights and being right

Some time ago, I stumbled across a story of a high school student, Chad Farnan, who is suing his high school history teacher, James Corbett, for making excessive anti-Christian comments in the classroom. Corbett was accused of saying such things as:

“Conservatives don’t want women to avoid pregnancies – that’s interfering with God’s work”

“When you put on your Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth.”

“How do you get the peasants to oppose something that is in their best interest? Religion. You have to have something that is irrational to counter that rational approach.”

And more. You can read the initial article here.

A year and a half later, the court ruled that Mr. Corbett did indeed violate his student’s first amendment rights on one singular comment involving creationism. You can read about the court’s ruling here.

Neither the case in itself, nor the ruling particularly merits much of my attention; it merely seems another day in the life of litigious America. However, upon delivery of the ruling, Fox news picked up the story and did an interview with the Chad Farnan and his attorney.Here is the interview. (In case embedding the video doesn’t work, the link is here.)

I’m rewinding on a couple of Farnan’s quotes from this video:

“All kids have the right, no teacher has the right to discriminate against religion…”

“Kids don’t know their rights like I know now.”

It seems that Chad Farnan is couching his actions in terms of rights given by the government, at the same time does not object to being called a “devout Christian”.

I keep asking myself whether or not a devout Christian should invoke rights given by the government to be used against someone else. In other words, I keep asking myself if exercising one’s “rights” makes you right in a Christian sense.

What should Christian’s stand be on “rights” given by the government? How should Christians respond when someone violates those rights? Was Chad right in this situation?

What do you think?


10 responses to “Rights and being right

  1. Whoa, this is a good one! My Ben watched it with me, and we had such a good conversation. He was glad that the student thought for himself and stood up for what he believed.

    I didn’t take the time to read the articles, but my concern in this would be that the teacher be stopped. Whether he is railing on Christians or Hindus or Buddhists, he should be unable to continue this unprofessional behavior. If my child were being treated in this way, I would want to encourage him to let the Lord be his defender, I would remind him that Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, for I have overcome the world.” We should anticipate this kind of criticism, as Christians, and we should not play the victim’s part. I am huge on this.

    However, that teacher needed to be dealt with ever so seriously. If he were doing that to my kid, I would take it to the principal and on up the chain of command. I am curious what of this happened before the lawsuit and what the response from the school or district may have been. (Tell me to go back and read the article if I need to!)

    What a fine line we walk! I think the Spirit moves different ones of us to engage the world in different ways. My Ben was impressed that Chad did what he thought was right. I can’t say if it would have been right for me, but I am glad that he is grappling with the issues of authority and discernment, and encouraging other teens to be discerning.

  2. I’ve never “railed” against any student’s religion in my life. Chad Farnan admitted under oath that he didn’t do the homework and further that he thought “provocative” was a synonym for “prohibited,” a measure of Chad’s academic abilities and work ethic.

    You may read my defense. Just google “James Corbett My Defense.” Every student was warned, by snail mail, that I would be “provocative” and that I would tie events in European History to modern events and politics. In addition, every kid and parent had my home phone and email to use if they had questions. The first I heard that Chad was offended, was when he showed up with lawyers and reporters to drop the suit on the principal’s desk and hold a news conference on the steps of the school. He’ll be speaking at the Richard Nixon Library in October, “Jesus Stood up For Me, Now I’m Standing up for Him.” I’m confident, I’ll win on the one issue the judge has yet to adjudicate (he’s already thrown out 20 of 21 claims). You can stand with this kid, but you’ll be right next to Sarah Palin.

  3. Hmmm… I don’t know what the exact circumstance was here. It would help me in dissecting what I think is “right”. For instance, did Chad try to bring this to the school’s attention, the PTA’s attention, or maybe his church’s attention before turning to a lawyer? Yes, the teacher should have be called on the mat for speaking against any religion in the classroom, but I feel like there are much more loving (and Christian) ways of doing that without sueing him. However, if Chad did approach other adults (school staff, PTA, pastor) and they did nothing to help him navigate this sticky situation in a loving, gentle, biblical way, then I have a difficult time excusing their neglect of helping this boy too. If this is the case, then escalating the situation to the courtroom maybe have been the only way for this boy to make it stop for himself and other students. Although, definitely not ideal.

  4. ARRGGG…I lost my first reply, which was far better. The second time is always not quite the same. Anyway…

    Couple of comments.

    First, I’d like to thank Mr. Corbett for commenting. It continues to amaze me how the internet has the ability to facilitate connection between those who are unknown to each other.

    Your comment highlights something that was only insinuated in the articles – that the school administration knew nothing of Farnan’s complaints until he showed up with his lawyers.

    You also mention that you never “railed” against any student’s religion. You say that your statements are provocative, but many have found them to go over the line. If your statements are not railing, then can you explain what railing would look like? Going further, it is my understanding that the judge ruled against you on one statement. Isn’t it reasonable to say that in at least that one instance, you were indeed railing?

    Tracy – I’m going to push back a bit. There are a couple of ways in which I find Farnan’s actions to be questionable. One has to do with the encouragement to love one’s enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5). The other has to do with Paul’s admonition to live at peace with others as much as it depends on you (Romans 12). There are other examples I could gather from the life of Job and the apostles, but they would take up too much space and I think you get my point. In my estimation, Farnan has demonstrated failure to show kindness to his neighbor, and an unwillingness to live at peace with others in bringing this lawsuit. Instead, he has done nothing to demonstrate how his response to persecution is any different than a non-Christian. In my estimation, his response is sub-Christian. In other words, exercising his “rights” has not made him right in any Christian sense. We must remember that thinking for ourselves and standing up for what we believe is far different for a Christian than for those who don’t have Christ as our example. To use Corbett’s words – our Jesus glasses teach us a different way of seeing truth and acting towards truth.

    I do agree that Mr. Corbett should have been confronted over these comments, but if the student would have done this in a more scripturally relevant manner, we probably would have never heard about the dispute.

    To Melissa’s point, the spiritual leaders that Farnan trusted should have helped him navigate this situation differently.

  5. Oh, this is just getting better!

    Mr. Corbett, you came to the right place. The moderator of this blog is all about challenging people to think, and Christians in particular. To think outside the box of what popular Christian culture today might dictate. Sometimes he is provocative in his approach, for the very reasons you cite.

    However, I think that given the examples in the video in this post, I would classify your methods as beyond provocative. Inflammatory, demeaning, sarcastic, and over the top are the first few descriptors that come to mind.

    You, Melissa and I all pointed out something critical to the understanding of the truth of any matter: context. Sometimes the most intelligent response one can give to an event or issue is to come up with relevant questions which, if answered, could lead one to the heart of the matter. You answered some of our questions by citing that neither Chad nor his parents approached you or school officials before presenting a law suit to the principal. That being the case, I definitely disagree with their approach. The proper thing to do would be to come to you directly (and I appreciate the fact that you afforded that opportunity up front), and then if they still felt that their concerns were not addressed, to go to your principal and any other appropriate representatives of the school and if necessary, the district. I agree with Ben that if an approach more like this had been taken, there is a likelihood it never would have come to litigation.

    But Mr. Corbett, it seems to me that your method of provocation is intended more to cloud issues and skew context than to teach students to ask questions that would clarify the reasons for different positions on issues raised by history or current events, providing information from multiple perspectives that would enable students to draw intelligent conclusions for themselves. You are completely dismissing the validity of some widely held viewpoints. Rather than encouraging your students to think, your sarcasm comes across as an attempt to convince them that as long as they are who they are, they are not capable of intelligent thought. Not unlike the approach of some news networks.

    Ben, it is challenging to me to look at this both from a Christian perspective, and an educator’s perspective. During my ten years of public school teaching, I held myself to the highest of standard of respect for my students. I never denied my faith, and in fact, I believe my students were aware of its importance to me, but I always reminded myself to approach the matter with the same respect that I would want a teacher of another faith perspective to have with a child of mine. I expect the same of others in my profession, and I believe as educators we are all accountable to maintain such a standard.

    But back to the real question: Is it always right for Christians to demand our rights as Americans? Not at the expense of our neighbor. And how quickly we forget this.

  6. One thing I have learned in the two decades I’ve been in school (isn’t that crazy?) is that the best teachers are indeed provcative. However, there is a big difference between being insightful through provocation and having the provocation be inciteful. The best of teachers do the former, while lesser teachers do the later.

    Being inciteful typcially causes those with contrary convictions to entrench themselves, which is the opposite reaction that educators should desire. That is not to say, however, that being insightful does not incite, but the difference in this case is vast.

    In any case, I hope this post was provcative towards insight.

    But I wonder if the original question really extends beyond rights? If a Christian can make an argument that their actions are “ok”, does that mean that they should? Maybe we should visit this more…

  7. Holy cow. This is amazing! Both sides have great points and Mr. Corbett himself even commenting! Wow! It is so difficult to see this debate for what is it and not interject the larger war at play. There are so many issues here. I say, firstly, thanks to every teacher out there; teaching is the noblest of professions. I heard is said that man’s greatest need besides food and sex is to tell another man how to do his job. Could this case be that simple?

    The beauty in any education is in diversity of the teachers. The students should feel all the more enriched for a differing perspective.

    There are plenty of private schools for those who can’t handle diversity, right? I think back to my private school education where the a-capella group interrupted classrooms on Valentines Day to sing, “Masterbating Over You.” Or the flaming gay professor who made everyone feel extremely uncomfortable with jokes and come-ons. In my public school days, the same was there just to a lesser degree. Teachers could never fully cover up their beliefs. Christian teachers put pressure on students as well. I remember extremely subtle comments that had the most effect—and those comments were not recordable. Mr. Corbett made bold statements that well, went really far. But that’s what teachers do: challenge students.

    I honestly get a slimy feeling about the suing student. After being forewarned, the student recorded the lectures “for study purposes” and found them handy in an obviously premeditated lawsuit. That sounds like lying to me. Also, he could have dropped the class, brushed the comments off, or even chimed in for a surely welcomed discussion. Instead, he aggressively polarized the religious community while seeking fame all the while hell-bent on firing a teacher.

    I’ll conclude by saying that public schools are indeed tough situations for students. Michael Moore nailed it on the head with, “It sucks being a teenager. And it really sucks going to school.” There are problems enough in schools; this problem, it seems, is the wrong arena for the religious/free speech debate (so says the courts..)

    It is, however, an excellent debate where both sides have powerful points. Good job, Ben, you found a great one!

  8. Ben– I had been thinking about these verses in another context before your last comment: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” Galatians 5:13-14

    Eric–I totally agree with you about the taping the lectures “just so he could be prepared for class”. That struck me as completely disingenuous, and even more so after Mr. Corbett say he testified that he didn’t do the homework.

    I think it is important to remember that this is a class with 15 and 16 year olds. It is not a college class. The authority issue is more difficult the younger the student, and to expect a kid to stand up and claim the kind of faith Mr. Corbett is ridiculing is too much to expect. I think that if you and Ben and Melissa and I were in Mr. Corbett’s class, however, we would have a lot of fun. 🙂

  9. Thanks for chiming in, Eric. I’ve enjoyed this one, too.

    And, Tracy, you’re sorta going where I’m going when we talk about our Christian “freedoms”. Just because you feel like you can, does it mean that you should? I’m thinking of how this works out in a particular case that has been in the media.

    I’m working on the post in my “spare time”, which means I’ll be done in a month or so 🙂

  10. overdue for a new post!!

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