There are two big stories arising from the California Science Center’s censorship last October of the pro-intelligent design film Darwin’s Dilemma. The first big story, which was the primary focus of a Los Angeles Times article last week, is the act of censorship itself. As an agency of state government in California, the Science Center is required to abide by the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. The Science Center didn’t have to rent its facilities to the public, but once it did so, as a government agency, it was legally obliged by the First Amendment to treat all citizens equally.
But there is another big story tied to the Science Center that hasn’t received sufficient attention yet: The Center’s illegal cover-up.
The California Science Center has flagrantly violated California’s open records law in an apparent effort to hide the real story behind its censorship of Darwin’s Dilemma. The Center’s evasion of the law is the reason for the open records lawsuit recently brought by Discovery Institute against the Center. In October, the Institute filed a comprehensive open records request demanding that the Science Center turn over all documents relating to its abrupt decision to cancel the privately-sponsored screening of Darwin’s Dilemma. In early November, the Science Center released 44-pages of documents in response to the records request. At that time, the Center assured Discovery Institute that it had turned over “all documents” and that “no documents have been withheld,” apart from a few e-mail addresses that were redacted. The Science Center did not tell the truth. Discovery Institute independently obtained incriminating emails involving Center officials that should have been turned over by the Center but weren’t.
Most importantly, the Institute obtained a smoking-gun e-mail confirming that the censorship of Darwin’s Dilemma was connected to the Science Center’s relationship with the Smithsonian Institution. In an Oct. 6 email to the American Freedom Alliance, Science Center Vice President Christine Sion specifically cited alleged damage to the Center’s “relationship with the Smithsonian” as the reason for canceling the Darwin’s Dilemma screening. In its open records request, Discovery Institute had asked for all documents relating to the screening cancellation that referenced the Smithsonian. The Christine Sion e-mail was clearly covered by that request and therefore should have been produced. It wasn’t. Another email from a Smithsonian official to the Science Center complaining about the screening was likewise suppressed.
These missing emails may be the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There is a huge unexplained gap in the documents produced by the Center thus far, raising suspicions that the Center may have suppressed many more incriminating documents. Notably, the Science Center failed to disclose even a single email or document relating to the Darwin’s Dilemma screening written by any decisionmaker at the Center who actually made the determination to cancel the screening. In other words, the Science Center would have the public believe that although there was lively email traffic about the screening by others at the Center, no one involved in making the cancellation decision composed even one email or other document mentioning the screening.
It is certainly beginning to look like someone at the Science Center scrubbed the record in order to hide any incriminating documents from the public in violation of the law. And that’s outrageous.
Even those who don’t care one whit about the debate over Darwinism and intelligent design ought to be concerned when a state agency flagrantly violates an open records law and then lies about it. Let’s hope that the judicial system in California is prepared to defend the public interest and to force the Science Center to comply with the law.