Comer Lawsuit Dismissed, TEA's Neutrality Policy Upheld
by Christine Dao *
A lawsuit brought by Chris Comer, former director of science at the Texas Education Agency, against the TEA and its commissioner, Robert Scott, was dismissed by a federal judge on March 31, 2009. United States District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that part of the suit violated sovereign immunity law, which mimics the 11th Amendment by preventing a plaintiff from suing a state agency in federal court. The rest of the lawsuit failed the summary judgment test, meaning that there was “no material evidence” to support Comer’s complaint.
Comer’s name briefly came into the spotlight after her sudden resignation in late 2007. She had been previously disciplined on several occasions for violating TEA policy, and she was finally asked to resign in October 2007 for using government email to publicize a lecture by evolutionist Barbara Forrest titled “Inside Creationism’s Trojan Horse.”
By forwarding the Forrest lecture message to various groups and individuals, Comer violated the TEA’s policy to remain neutral on an issue still under evaluation by its superior authority, the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE), specifically Texas’ science curriculum standards on scientific theories such as evolution.
“Comer’s forwarding of the email ‘implies that TEA endorses the speaker’s position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral…sending this email…creat[es] the perception that TEA has a biased position on a subject directly related to the science education T[exas] E[ssential] K[knowledge] [and] S[kills],’” Judge Yeakel wrote.1 Until the SBOE finalized its TEKS position, the TEA—which implements SBOE standards—was obligated to remain “neutral.”
After Comer’s resignation, pro-evolution lobbyists such as the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) used the media in an attempt to paint Comer as a martyr for the Darwinist movement, as though her situation was similar to the way scientists and educators who question Darwin’s ideas have been fired and denied tenure as depicted in the Ben Stein documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed and in Dr. Jerry Bergman’s book Slaughter of the Dissidents. But regardless of whether her email promoted a Darwinist speaker or not, Comer still misused her government office by taking unauthorized action directly related to a controversial topic that was then pending before the SBOE.
Comer and her lawyers tried to fault the TEA’s policy of neutrality as a promotion of religion and therefore a violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. But Judge Yeakel ruled that:
Comer provides no summary-judgment proof raising an issue of material fact regarding whether the [Texas Education] Agency’s neutrality policy has a primary effect of advancing or endorsing religion….Because the neutrality policy does not violate the Establishment Clause, all of Comer’s claims fail, and the Court will grant summary judgment in favor of the Agency.1
After the ruling, the NCSE stated:
Although Comer’s lawsuit was dismissed, her plight…is still a disquieting indication of the condition of science education in Texas….In light of the recent adoption of a set of state science standards that encourages the presentation of creationist arguments, the TEA’s “neutrality when talking about evolution and creationism” is likely to be under scrutiny again.2
The “standards that [encourage] the presentation of creationist arguments” in actuality state:
In all fields of science, analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental observation and testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those explanations so as to encourage critical thinking by the students.
The NCSE has stated that “having students ‘analyze and evaluate all sides of scientific evidence’ is code that gives creationists a green light to attack biology textbooks,”3 which is a curious statement from an organization that has “science education” as part of its title. Isn’t analyzing and evaluating evidence a crucial part of teaching critical thinking?4
Whether trying to transmogrify the Establishment Clause or pressure state agencies into restricting science to a narrow methodology, Darwinian proponents will apparently not be satisfied until everyone thinks and professes the same atheistic and anti-science views that they promote. But with recent decisions such as these, the TEA is keeping the door open for real and unhindered scientific inquiry, as well as providing an academic environment that fosters critical thinking and discussion, rather than trying to censor it.
- Memorandum Opinion in Comer v. Scott, Case 1:08-CV-00511-LY (W. D. Tex.–Austin, 3-31-2009) (unpublished opinion)
- Comer case dismissed. National Center for Science Education press release, April 1, 2009.
- Science setback for Texas schools. National Center for Science Education press release, March 30, 2009.
- Dao, C. Evolutionists, Atheists Admit Defeat in Texas. ICR News. Posted on icr.org April 3, 2009.
* Ms. Dao is Assistant Editor at the Institute for Creation Research.
Article posted on April 9, 2009.