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Not Really about Censorship of Intelligent Design? E-Mails Expose California Science Center’s Sham Pretext

Casey Luskin

When members of the Darwin lobby get caught in the act of discriminating against intelligent design (ID), their usual reflexive response is simply to deny the evidence of their intolerance. We saw this with the Guillermo Gonzalez case, where the censors blamed the victim. That’s exactly what is happening in the current media war over the settlement in the American Freedom Alliance (AFA) v. California Science Center (CSC) lawsuit.

The evidence in this case shows CSC cancelled the event, a film screening, because it disliked the film’s pro-ID view, not because AFA did anything wrong as CSC claimed by way of pretext. In its initial e-mail canceling AFA’s event, Christina Sion, a CSC vice president and lead negotiator on the AFA contract, expressed concerns about how publicity for AFA’s event might harm the reputation of the CSC and its standing within the scientific community: “This press release has damaged our relationship with the Smithsonian and the reputation of the California Science Center.” That e-mail alone provides evidence that viewpoint discrimination was at work.

But CSC was ready with a pretext: Publicly, it claimed the cancellation flowed from AFA’s alleged violation of a publicity provision of the event contract. Privately, however, a different story was being told. Internally, Sion disclosed the real reason for bringing down the hammer on AFA. In a moment of candor she wrote to her colleagues that “the main problem is that [AFA] is an anti-Darwin/creationist group.” (emphasis added) While obviously Sion is wrong to label AFA a “creationist group,” the key point here is that the “main problem” is AFA’s viewpoint, not some alleged contract violation.

Further articulating CSC’s intolerant attitude toward ID, Sion offers the opinion that “[a] science center should not even be asked to partner w/any group associated w/debating Darwinism — it’s not our place” since “their topic of Darwinism and the nature of their controversial approach is likely not a good fit to partner w/a Science Center.”

But CSC had to find a legitimate-sounding reason for the cancellation. In a striking e-mail that shows the CSC fishing for a pretext to give the public, CSC VP of Communications Shell Amega passes a command from CSC CEO Jeff Rudolph to fish through the contract to find a reason, a pretext, for canceling the event:

“Jeff just called and is wondering if they violated an agreement — like was this supposed to be a private screening or did they say it was a public screening? If they misrepresented the event, then we can cancel them.”

In case it isn’t clear, the above statement shows that CSC first wanted to cancel AFA’s event, and then sought a reason it could give publicly to explain the cancellation. In other words, CSC wanted to cancel the contract before it knew anything about whether the contract had been violated. Shell Amega’s own e-mail contradicts her claims that AFA’s alleged breach triggered the cancellation.

In another telling e-mail, Sion then jubilantly announces the manufacture of plausible deniability: “They did receive an agreement w/the following language — hope this covers us well!

If you want still more proof of CSC’s discrimination, NHMLAC evolutionary biologist John Long reports that in private conversations, Jeff Rudolph was reassuring neighboring science institutions that the cancellation did in fact stem from CSC’s opposition to ID:

“Jane Pisano (our CEO) rang Jeff Rudolph the CEO of California Science Center last night and had a chat to him about the screening of the ID film at CSC’s IMAX. They had in fact cancelled the event as being not in line with their mission to educate the public about science, so it is not going ahead…”

The California Science Center’s Foundation (which is a shell organization of the CSC) is also claiming that “the fact that the Foundation booked the AFA’s event in the first place affirmatively demonstrated the lack of merit to AFA’s argument.” But again the e-mail evidence tells another story. In one e-mail, CSC Vice President Joe DeAmicis reassures CSC Curator Ken Phillips that no one in Events knew about the “nature of the groups involved” before AFA’s booking:

“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.'”

The implication, of course, is that if CSC’s Events Department had known of the pro-ID “nature of the groups involved,” they would not have allowed the rental in the first place.

Thus, CSC has been giving out two different stories about why they cancelled the event: one version for the public and the other reason — the true reason — spoken of only in private. Publicly they claim the event was cancelled due to some kind of a contract violation by AFA. But privately they admit that this is about keeping ID out of the Science Center.
CSC had one version of the story — a pretext — for the public, but quite a different and far more intolerant version when privately reassuring other intolerant scientists and scientific organizations that they opposed ID.

This isn’t surprising: we’ve seen precisely such obfuscation and denials in the past when intolerant Darwin lobbyists are caught discriminating against ID.


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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