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Should it Matter that the California Science Center was “Unaware of the Nature of the Groups Involved”?

In a prior post, I noted that California Science Center (CSC) vice president Christina Sion wrote regarding the American Freedom Alliance (AFA) that “the main problem is that it is an anti-Darwin/creationist group.” This is clear evidence of viewpoint discrimination by the CSC in its decision to cancel the AFA’s screening of Darwin’s Dilemma. More evidence comes in an e-mail from Joe DeAmicis, CSC’s vice president of marketing, to CSC curator Ken Phillips. DeAmicis implies that had the museum known of “the nature of the groups,” they might have acted differently:

This screening event was booked through the Events Dept., and they were unaware of the nature of the groups involved. It has come to Jeff’s attention and he is “working on it.” That’s about all I know.

Why should it matter to CSC staff that CSC’s events department was “unaware of the nature of the groups involved”? It matters because no one there likes intelligent design (ID) and no one wants to be caught appearing sympathetic to ID; if they weren’t aware of the pro-ID nature of the groups involved, then they can plead ignorance to their friends who were angry about the event. In this culture of intolerance, the rule is this: don’t get caught anywhere near ID.

Thus, CSC curator Ken Phillips soon thereafter felt it necessary to forward the DeAmicis email to Dan Lewis, curator of the Huntington Library. In an attempt to plead ignorance and thereby exonerate CSC from any wrongdoing in Lewis’s eyes, Phillips interprets DeAmicis’s email for Lewis:

Apparently the Center for Science and Culture (a group which I knew nothing of until you brought this matter to my attention) booked our theater directly through the Event Services Department.

These are the go-to people if you want to have a prom, wedding, business meeting etc. I’ll bet my bottom dollar that they had (and still have) no idea of the connection, the issues or the problems of making it appear as though intelligent design should even be elevated to a level where it deserves to be placed alongside Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

Again, statements like these strongly suggest that if CSC leadership had been “aware of the nature of the groups involved” — namely that AFA was pro-ID — then CSC would not have permitted AFA to rent space to begin with. After all, no one wants to be caught “making it appear as though intelligent design should even be elevated to a level where it deserves to be placed alongside Darwin’s theory of natural selection.”

This is a textbook example of viewpoint discrimination. In the primary case where the U.S. Supreme Court explained the jurisprudence of viewpoint discrimination, Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches School District, a public school district in New York refused repeated requests from a religious group that sought to rent district facilities for after-hours use. The Court ruled that “the First Amendment forbids the government to regulate speech in ways that favor some viewpoints or ideas at the expense of others.” The Court decided that the policy behind the district’s refusal to rent space was unconstitutional because it “discriminates on the basis of viewpoint by permitting school property to be used for the presentation of all views about family issues and child rearing except those dealing with the subject from a religious standpoint” (508 U.S. 384 (1993)).

But that’s exactly what we see here: if CSC leadership had understood the pro-ID “nature of the groups involved,” then they would have refused the request to rent the facilities. These e-mails do not help the CSC’s case.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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