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Teacher Sued For Bashing Christianity -- Will Others Be Censored?

A teacher in California was found to have violated a student’s First Amendment rights by disparaging religion in the classroom. The ruling could silence outspoken teachers.

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Wearing his trademark teaching apparel, suit and tie, his remote in hand, Corbett directs students’ attention to a news item shown on screen about Ugandan laws persecuting gays, even calling for their execution, and mentions that Saddleback Church has been criticized for not using its considerable influence there to oppose the laws. (Pastor Rick Warren finally took a stand against them.) He doesn’t spend too much time on the topic, however, moving on to Power Point slides. Time to make sense of Europe’s endlessly changing map in a century of conflict, empire and nation-building. We’re talking Crimean War, Piedmont-Sardinia, Garibaldi, Cavour, the Franco-Prussian War, Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm (a powerful, accomplished man whose son “was an idiot,” prompting Corbett to make a comparison to a certain fighter-pilot president and his cheerleader son).

Along the way we learn that a historical figure named Von Moltke was a cross-dresser, that 30,000 died in the Parisian uprising but not before they roasted rats, that “The Charge of the Light Brigade” is not all it’s cracked up to be – given that the military slaughter it depicts was all due to a mix-up, and that a Jamaican woman was a beloved wartime nurse even before Florence Nightingale, who got all the credit because the British are expert at romanticizing themselves. We learn there are breathtaking grottos on the Italian coast and that Corbett once roughed it in rural Missouri while working at a historically black university.

Some kids -- the ones on the couch in particular -- hang on Corbett’s lecture, especially his asides, weird trivia and personal stories, while other students sitting at the desks seem a little less engaged. But if the lawsuit against Corbett proves anything, it’s that you really don’t know which students are tuning in and to what. You can only say for certain what kind of class the teacher is running, and in this case, it’s a class that imparts vast quantities of complex information, incorporates entertaining storytelling and passionate opinion, refuses to coddle students, and ultimately, demands a lot of them.

“Pay attention here,” Corbett barks at one point, asking: “What do we know about Paris?” One kid makes a stab at answering, timidly: “It’s bourgeois?”


“Republican leftists don’t like Napoleon III,” Corbett says, explaining that the Prussian Army is firing on Paris but that it’s no easy task to take a well-defended city, especially when the French are willing to eat zoo animals rather than give in, and…. he’s off on another story.

Amy DePaul is a writer and college instructor who lives in Irvine, Calif. Her articles have appeared in The Washington Post and many other newspapers.