A federal judge denied on Monday a motion to dismiss a lawsuit against a history teacher for making repeated disparaging remarks about Christians during class.
"I believe there's a plausible case," U.S. District Court Judge James Selna said in a Santa Ana, Calif., courtroom, according to The Orange County Register. "What we face at trial and summary judgment is a different matter."
Dan Spradlin, attorney for Advanced Placement European history teacher James Corbett, had asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the teacher's former student. After Monday's ruling, however, the lawsuit will go to trial.
Chad Farnan, sophomore at Capistrano Valley High School and a Christian, and his parents sued the history teacher in December, alleging that the educator had fostered hostility toward Christians and promoted "irreligion over religion," violating the Establishment Clause.
According to the lawsuit, Corbett spent "a large portion of class time propagating his personal views to a captive audience."
Court documents cite statements tape recorded by Farnan during Corbett's lectures, such as "When you put on your Jesus glasses, you can't see the truth."
Corbett attended Monday's hearing but declined to comment, saying, "I am frustrated that my side of this story has yet to be heard, but there is so much at stake for me and my family that my best course is to follow my lawyer's advice and wait until this is over before I comment," according to the local newspaper.
The high school teacher has drawn support from hundreds of students who have rallied with "support free speech" signs and argued that he spurred discussions in an intelligent way.
Many have also flocked to Farnan, calling for and end to hate and intolerance and urging support for the student and the Constitution.
Lawyers for the Advocates for Faith and Freedom, a Christian legal group representing the Farnan family, released additional comments into the litigation this week that were made by Corbett during instruction:
"Aristotle argued there has to be a God. Of course that's nonsense" and "We do not invoke the supernatural every time we get stymied. It's okay for religious people to do that, or magicians. There might not be a distinction. What was it that Mark Twain said? He said that religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool."
Corbett's attorney argues that the comments were all taken out of context.
"This is a very committed educator who is trying to stimulate his students into an active discussion and to recognize that they should be prepared to challenge authority, including AP European history professors," said Spradlin, as reported by the local Register. "This has a really chilling impact on teachers through the nation.
"In his heart of hearts, he hopes he's still giving the benefit of teaching his students to think critically."
Farnan's attorney, however, argued that Corbett was including his own point during instruction and "clearly displaying hostility toward Christianity."
Since the December lawsuit, Farnan has dropped out of Corbett's class and is currently enrolled in a non-AP history class.