Hundreds of students and alumni rallied outside Capistrano Valley High School Wednesday morning to show support for the history teacher, who is being sued by one of his students for making offensive remarks about Christians and conservative Christianity in class.
Around 200-300 protestors came about an hour before school started to defend James Corbett, who teaches Advanced Placement European history at the Mission Viejo school. Supporters lined the streets in front of the school chanting "support free speech" and holding signs that read, "He Made Us Think," "Keep Corbett" and "Who Would Jesus Sue?"
The rally came one week after sophomore Chad Farnan and his parents filed a lawsuit against the instructor for violating the Establishment Clause, which prohibits government from advancing religion or promoting hostility toward religion.
Lawyers for the Advocates for Faith and Freedom, a Christian legal group representing the Farnan family, met with school Principal Tom Ressler last Wednesday and indicated they will drop the lawsuit if Corbett was fired.
Court documents cite statements made by Corbett in Farnan's tape-recorded lectures such as "When you put on your Jesus glasses, you can't see the truth" and "Conservatives don't want women to avoid pregnancies. That's interfering with God's work. You got to stay pregnant, barefoot and in the kitchen and have babies until your body collapses."
Some students, however, said at the rally that despite their religious background they were not offended by Corbett's comments
Sophomore Shawn Heavlin-Martinez, who identified himself as a Quaker, is enrolled in the same class Farnan had been attending but said he was not insulted.
"Everything he says about religion is relevant to what he teaches," he told the Los Angeles Times.
Senior Ali Coyle, a former student of Corbett's class, held a sign that read "Irish Catholic Supports Dr. Corbett."
"For hundreds of years the church was corrupt, and that has to be discussed," Coyle told the local newspaper. "I was never offended by what he said, and I'm an Irish Catholic."
Other students who have taken AP European history at the school concurred.
"I support Corbett because he's a teacher who supported free speech and allowed us to discuss in an intelligent way," Matt Yee, a junior who took the class last year, said in a report by the Orange County Register.
Down the street, two smaller groups of protestors held signs and expressed their support for Farnan by holding signs reading "Support Chad and The Constitution," "Freedom from hate" and "Stop Dr. Corbett's Intolerance."
"I love what Chad's doing," said Farnan's friend Cale Crawford, 16.
"The teacher is breaking the First Amendment, and Chad is standing up for what he believes in," the home-schooled high school junior told the Orange County Register.
Chad's 20-year-old sister Vanessa Farnan, a sophomore at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, also joined in the protest, according to the newspaper.
"He's a government official. To bash religion is wrong," she said while displaying a sign that read "Teach Don't Preach."
Vanessa added that if Corbett "wanted to teach like that, he should be at a university," the Los Angeles Times reported.
Farnan was also backed by Pastor Wiley Drake of the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, who led a small prayer vigil for Farnan and passed through the crowd with a microphone interviewing protesters for his Internet radio show RepublicRadio.com.
Drake, a former national leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, agreed with Farnan that Corbett should be removed from his teaching job.
"I'm tired of being criticized and ostracized for being a Christian. I'm glad Chad filed his suit. It's time we Christians fought back," the pastor said.
The Rev. Rod McDougal, who came up from San Diego for the prayer vigil, said they don't just want the history instructor "strung up" but they "want him fired."
Ressler declined direct comment on the suit.
"I care very deeply for the student who raised the issue," said Ressler, according to the Capistrano Dispatch. "In fairness we need to let the process take its course. I'm not interested in a public debate."
The Capistrano Unified School District released a statement this week saying it was "reviewing this situation as we do with any parental concern" and didn't want to "prejudge any of the facts."
It also noted that Corbett was an experienced teacher who "has a strong record of ensuring student achievement, as demonstrated by Advanced Placement test scores," the statement read.
School administrators described the protests as peaceful and said students went to class on time.