Thursday :: Aug 18, 2005

A Small but Important Victory

by eriposte

Some of you may recall the lawsuit that was filed by the Far Right Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) on behalf of a teacher Stephen Williams, against Principal Patricia Vidmar of the Stevens Creek Elementary School in Cupertino, CA and against the Cupertino Union School District (CUSD). This frivolous lawsuit was accompanied by the infamous and egregious lie that Stevens Creek Elementary had somehow "banned" the Declaration of Independence, as Dave Johnson first reported at Seeing The Forest. Following Dave, I had taken a closer look at the lawsuit and demonstrated that it was a frivolous and fake lawsuit, based in part on the use of bogus or dubious documents by the teacher in his history class, in his attempt to push his so-called "Christian" worldview on his impressionable students. In parallel, I had also examined the lawsuit strategies of the so-called "Christian Right" law firms, highlighting the kind of lawsuits they have historically been more successful at and pointing out that even based on that history, this lawsuit was a frivolous and cruel joke inflicted on the students, parents and teachers of Stevens Creek Elementary School.

In April of this year, unsurprisingly, a Federal Judge threw out three out of four claims in the lawsuit from the word go. The fourth claim was moved to discovery to assess whether it had merit. At the time, one of the parents who wrote to me said:

The judge, after raking the ADF lawyer over the coals for wasting the court' time, dismissed 3 of the four charges against the principal and district. The judge ruled that Mr. Williams freedom of speech was not violated in any way. These were the charges included in the original suit discussed on Hannity and Colmes and in the major news media last November. After several weeks, the case was amended to include a charge that Mr. Williams was discriminated against based on his religion. This is the one count the judge (reluctantly as reported by parents at the hearing) allowed to go to discovery. Apparently the ADF claimed they were not ready to present their case and needed more time. The local feeling is that this charge will be next to impossible to prove, and that it is likely the ADF will withdraw quietly over the summer...

The parent was right. Last week that Stephen Williams and ADF dropped the lawsuit entirely, which serves as a clear acknowledgement that Stevens Creek Elementary Principal Patricia Vidmar and CUSD did nothing wrong. The only thing that was a negative for Cupertino residents, with the "settlement" of this lawsit (see PDF), was that CUSD agreed to pay for the costs of their legal defense in this extraordinarily fake and frivolous lawsuit, rather than have ADF billed for this to make them pay the price for the chaos and hate they inflicted, jointly with Far Right media personalities. In that sense, it is a pity that the Far Right was allowed to get away with their utter contempt for taxpayer dollars and their loving embrace of frivolous lawsuits.

As I noted in my lawsuit update at eRiposte, the San Jose Mercury News continued its egregiously sub-standard coverage of this whole episode (in its news reporting) with an underwhelming report about the end of the lawsuit. I say underwhelming because it starts with this paragraph (emphasis mine):

The teacher whose discrimination lawsuit thrust Cupertino's Stevens Creek Elementary School into the national debate over religion in schools has withdrawn his case, with both sides agreeing to dismiss all claims.

Both sides? The Cupertino Union School District or Stevens Creek Elementary School did not file a lawsuit claiming anything. They just defended themselves using taxpayer money against Stephen Williams' and the ADF's remarkably, and egregiously, frivolous lawsuit. [NOTE: The Mercury News has also reported that the teacher has resigned].

The lawsuit settlement agreement makes it crystal clear that no changes have been made to the school district curriculum or guidelines, i.e., the school and the school district were right and never did anything wrong. Williams and the ADF have signed the agreement which states, among other things, that:

1. The parties agree that existing District policy allows teachers, no matter what their religious beliefs, to use appropriate educational material (including supplemental handouts of historical significance) during instructional time that has religious content - so long as it is objective, age appropriate, and in compliance with the curriculum as prescribed by the District, and not being used to influence a student's religious belief (or lack thereof).
3. The parties agree that the District, acting through the Superintendent, Superintendent's designee, school board and/or site administrator, has the final say in determining whether instruction or educational materials is appropriate and in compliance with the curriculum.

4. In consideration of the above mentioned agreements, Williams hereby withdraws his complaint in this case against all Defendants, with prejudice.

One need have no doubt that ADF will continue to spin their humiliating withdrawal and defeat in the most positive terms possible. Sure enough that's what they have done as Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars points out. It should also not be surprising that the Far Right who spread tall tales using this lawsuit are not going to provide much coverage of this now, since their fakery has been publicly documented one more time. As Ed comments:

When the Cupertino lawsuit was filed last fall, the conservative media went berserk over it. Fox News shows did nearly a dozen segments on it, with Hannity and Colmes even moving their entire show to Cupertino and staging a rally to "Take America Back". The Worldnutdaily, Newsmax and Free Republic all filed story after story about this outrage. Now that a judge dismissed 3 of the 4 grounds for the lawsuit and the teacher has withdrawn the last one, with no change in policy whatsoever, I thought it would be interesting to see how those outlets handled the story. Needless to say, they ignored it. Fox News' website contains no mention whatsoever of the withdrawal of the suit. Likewise for WND and Newsmax. Free Republic does mention it, but only to present the ADF's highly dishonest declaration of victory press release and scream in righteous outrage that it took a lawsuit to allow kids to read the Declaration of Independence (which is, of course, utter nonsense).

Anyway, let's divert our attention to something more positive - a brief word (I hope to have more on this later) on the parents who did such a wonderful job trying to fight back ADF's false claims transmitted propagandistically in the media without much fact-checking. They formed a group called We The Parents that did some heavy lifting in terms of communicating the facts to both the local community as well as to the media and kept the focus on the fact that the claims in the lawsuit were false. This was very important because CUSD, unacceptably, took a highly passive approach to fighting back against the lawsuit. So, let me say a word of thanks to We The Parents. They demonstrated that local community groups can make a lot of difference to fight for American values and to protect schools, teachers, students and parents.

Also, a number of other bloggers covered this issue at the time and I'd like to mention some of them here: Dave Johnson (Seeing the Forest), John McKay, Julia (American Street), Liz Ditz (I Speak of Dreams).

eriposte :: 7:44 AM :: Comments (11) :: TrackBack (0) :: Digg It!