Many claims dismissed in establishment clause suit on philosophy course content

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Smith v. Arizona, (D AZ, July 31, 2012), an Arizona federal district court dismissed many, but not all, of the claims in a lawsuit in which a student at Maricopa Community College alleged that the philosophy course she took– titled Introduction to Ethics– was taught by the instructor “solely to indoctrinate her students with her Christian worldview” in violation of the Establishment Clause. Claims against the state of Arizona an the State Board of Education were dismissed on 11th Amendment grounds.  Plaintiff’s claims for injunctive and declaratory relief were dismissed as moot, since she has already completed the course and has no reason to repeat it in the future. As to plaintiff’s claim for damages, the court found that the individual defendants have qualified immunity on the Establishment Clause claim because “Plaintiff has not pointed to any specific actions by Defendants that obviously violated a clearly established right under the Establishment Clause or to any cases indicating that a college level Ethics course cannot be taught with reference to a specific  religion.” However the court permitted plaintiff to move ahead with her damage claim for Establishment clause violations against the college and the college district, as well as her claim against the college for breach of contract. (See prior related posting.)