Former Texas Education Agency Director of Science
Christine Castillo Comer Files a Federal Lawsuit
Against Her Former Agency

News Articles and Editorials

Compiled by Texas Citizens for Science
July 2008

Former TEA science director files federal lawsuit

7/2/2008 7:38 PM
By: News 8 Austin Staff
http://www.news8austin.com/content/your_news/default.asp?ArID=213338

[photo]
Christina Castillo-Comer resigned under pressure last November.

She was in charge of the science curriculum in Texas schools and said she lost her job for supporting evolution.

Christina Castillo-Comer resigned, under pressure, from the Texas Education Agency last November.

She worked at the TEA for nine years, but her employment came to an abrupt end when supervisors told her she could head for the door or they would be forced to show her to it.

Now, Comer has filed -- in federal court -- to get her job back and her name cleared.

This was a result of a controversial e-mail that Comer forwarded to several people.

The e-mail was about a speaker coming to Austin who had critical views of creationism.

The e-mail was intercepted by a state education leader.

Comer was then told that she had violated policy by forwarding the email because the state agency has a neutral position on evolution issues.

In her complaint, Comer said that the actions of the TEA were unconstitutional and based on political motivations to support creationism.

Comer is asking for reinstatement, for a judgment finding the TEA at fault and for reimbursement for legal fees.

The TEA was not available for comment late Wednesday.

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Here Comes Another Monkey Trial…

by Forrest Wilder
Texas Observer Blogs
July 2nd, 2008
http://www.texasobserver.org/blog/index.php/category/education/

Remember Chris Comer, the science director over at the Texas Education Agency who was fired for emailing folks about an evolution event? Yesterday, she filed suit [3.0 MB PDF] against TEA in federal court in Austin. After all the negative publicity, the mocking editorials, the scorn of the education community, and now this -- a serious lawsuit -- firing Comer looks like the dumbest thing TEA could have done.

The suit alleges that Comer’s termination violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. What’s interesting is how the suit reaches that conclusion:

1) Creationism is a religious belief

2) The Establishment Clause forbids the teaching of religion (read: creationism) in public schools. [The suit makes liberal reference to Kitzmiller v. Dover, the landmark 2005 case in which a conservative Bush-appointed judge rejected the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution.]

3) The Texas Education Agency has a tacit policy of "neutrality" on evolution vs. creationism.

4) The "neutrality" policy is in fact an endorsement of creationism -- and religion - and is unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause.

5) Comer was fired for violating an unconstitutional policy.

Conclusion: "Comer’s termination… violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution… because it has the purpose or effect of endorsing religion."

Is this an air-tight argument or a real stretch? I don’t know, but the legal team representing Comer -- Patton Boggs LLC -- aren’t slouches. At a minimum, the suit could have a welcome salutary effect in Texas at a time when foes of evolution are regrouping.

The State Board of Education -- nearly dominated by unreconstructed creationists -- will soon revisit the state’s science curriculum. Certain Texas lawmakers may get ideas for the upcoming legislative session from a new law in Louisiana that opens the door to teaching creationism in schools. A high-profile court battle over evolution in Texas could suck all the oxygen out of these other efforts. Or maybe not.

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Former state science director sues over intelligent design e-mail

By TERRENCE STUTZ
tstutz@dallasnews.com
The Dallas Morning News
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Thursday, July 3, 2008
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/070408dntexscience.184e885c.html
http://www.dentonrc.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/texassouthwest/stories/DN-tea_03tex.ART.State.Edition1.4de5960.html

AUSTIN -- A former state science curriculum director filed suit against the Texas Education Agency and Education Commissioner Robert Scott on Wednesday, alleging she was illegally fired for forwarding an e-mail about a lecture that was critical of the teaching of intelligent design in science classes.

Christina Comer, who lost her job at the TEA last year, said in a suit filed in federal court in Austin that she was terminated for contravening an unconstitutional policy at the agency that required employees to be neutral on the subject of creationism -- the biblical interpretation of the origin of humans.

The policy was in force even though the federal courts have ruled that teaching creationism as science in public schools is illegal under U.S. Constitution’s provision preventing government establishment or endorsement of religious beliefs.

"The agency's 'neutrality' policy has the purpose or effect of endorsing religion, and thus violates the Establishment Clause," the lawsuit said.

Ms. Comer also said in her complaint that she was fired without due process after serving as the state science director for nearly 10 years.

Her lawsuit seeks a court order overturning the TEA's neutrality policy on teaching creationism and declaring that her dismissal was illegal under the Constitution. The suit also seeks her reinstatement.

A spokeswoman for the education agency said TEA officials had no comment on the lawsuit because they had not seen it.

But officials previously said Ms. Comer's e-mail about the lecture implied endorsement of the speaker's position "on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral." The speaker, Barbara Forrest, was the author of a book that asserted creationist politics were behind the national movement to get intelligent design taught in schools.

The theory of intelligent design holds that the origin of the universe and humans is best explained by an unknown "intelligent cause" rather than through evolutionary processes such as natural selection and random mutation. Critics -- and at least one federal judge -- contend that intelligent design is nothing more than creationism in disguise and has no business being taught in science classes.

TEA officials also said Ms. Comer made unauthorized remarks not connected to the debate over creationism and intelligent design during her tenure at the agency.

She left the agency as the State Board of Education was beginning to plan for a rewrite of the science curriculum in 2008. Curriculum standards now require that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution -- including the premise that humans evolved from lower forms of life -- be taught in all high school biology classes.

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Former TEA science director sues agency

The Associated Press
July 3, 2008
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/tx/5869951.html

AUSTIN — A former science curriculum director for the Texas Education Agency has filed a federal lawsuit alleging she was illegally fired for forwarding an e-mail about a speaker who was critical of teaching a controversial alternative to evolution.

Christina Comer, who lost her job at the TEA last year, said in the suit filed Wednesday against the TEA and Education Commissioner Robert Scott that she was terminated for defying an unconstitutional policy that required employees to be neutral on the subject of creationism — the biblical interpretation of the origin of human life.

The e-mail, which was intercepted by a state education leader, was about a speaker coming to Austin who had critical views of creationism and the teaching of intelligent design.

The federal courts have ruled that teaching creationism as science in public schools is illegal under the U.S. Constitution's provision preventing government establishment or endorsement of religious beliefs.

"The agency's 'neutrality' policy has the purpose or effect of endorsing religion, and thus violates the Establishment Clause," the lawsuit said.

A TEA spokeswoman would not comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks a court order overturning the TEA's neutrality policy on teaching of creationism and declaring that her dismissal was unconstitutional and her reinstatement to her old job.

In her complaint, Comer said that the actions of the TEA were unconstitutional and based on political motivations to support creationism.

Intelligent design is the belief that the origin of the universe and humans can best be explained by an unknown "intelligent cause" rather than through evolutionary processes such as natural selection and random mutation. Critics, including at least one federal judge, contend that intelligent design is nothing more than creationism and has no business being taught in science classes.
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Information from The Dallas Morning News and News 8 Austin: http://www.dallasnews.com and http://www.news8austin.com

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Science Supervisor Chris Comer Sues Texas Education Agency

by Glenn Branch
NCSE
July 3, 2008
http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2008/TX/713_science_supervisor_chris_comer_7_3_2008.asp

Chris Comer, the Director of Science at the Texas Education Agency (TEA) who was forced to resign over a dispute involving intelligent design, has filed suit in Federal District Court for redress. Comer seeks

* a declaratory judgment that the TEA policy of being "neutral" on the subject of creationism violates the Establishment Clause;
* a declaratory judgment that Comer's firing was unconstitutional;
* an offer from the TEA of reinstatement of Comer to her previous position as Director of Science;
* an injunction against TEA "having, expressing, or imposing through any means, a policy of 'neutrality' with respect to the teaching of creationism in the Texas public schools, or a policy that expressly or implicitly equates evolution and creationism, or that in any way credits creationism as a valid scientific theory"
* legal fees

Comer's offense was that she forwarded an email from NCSE's Glenn Branch announcing a talk by NCSE board member Dr. Barbara Forrest, co-author of Creationism's Trojan Horse, a critique of intelligent design creationism (see previous coverage here and here). Administrators reprimanded her for having informed her colleagues about the upcoming talk because it implied "that TEA endorses the speaker's position on a topic on which the agency must remain neutral."

Comer's suit takes to task the TEA's policy of "neutrality" regarding creationism, a religious view. "... the Agency's firing of its Director of Science for not remaining "neutral" on the subject violates the Establishment Clause, because it employs the symbolic and financial support of the State of Texas to achieve a religious purpose, and so has the purpose or effect of endorsing religion. By professing "neutrality," the Agency credits creationism as a valid scientific theory. Finally, the Agency fired Director Comer without according her due process as required by the 14th Amendment — a protection especially important here because Director Comer was fired for contravening and unconstitutional policy."

NCSE will keep you informed.

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Former state schools science director sues

Chris Comer, who resigned under pressure, says state neutrality on creationism amounts to religious advocacy.

By Molly Bloom
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Friday, July 04, 2008
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/07/04/0704comer.html

A former Texas Education Agency science director has filed a federal lawsuit maintaining that the education agency's neutral position on the teaching of creationism is unconstitutional.

Chris Comer, who was the agency's head of science curriculum for nine years, resigned in November after her supervisors threatened to fire her for forwarding an e-mail about a speaker who was critical of teaching creationism and intelligent design.

Comer's suit against the agency and Education Commissioner Robert Scott, filed Tuesday in the Western District of Texas, seeks a court order overturning the agency's neutrality policy on teaching of creationism, prohibiting any agency policy that "in any way credits creationism as a valid scientific theory" and reinstating Comer in her former position as director of science for the agency's curriculum division.

Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said that neither the agency nor Scott would comment on the lawsuit.

John Oberdorfer, one of Comer's lawyers, said he and his client also declined to comment.

Comer's suit maintains that creationism, the belief that human life was created as described in the Bible, is a religious belief and that the agency has a policy of not criticizing or advocating the teaching of creationism as science. The suit claims that the agency's "neutrality" policy in effect credits creationism as a valid scientific theory.

"The agency's policy is not neutral at all, because it has the purpose or effect of inviting dispute about an issue — teaching creationism in public schools — that is forbidden by" the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the suit says, referring to the section of the Bill of Rights that says, in part, that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

The federal courts have ruled that teaching creationism as science in public schools is illegal. Texas' biology curriculum requires the teaching of evolution — but not creationism or intelligent design — in science classes.

More than 130 Texas university science professors in December signed a letter to Scott calling evolution "a central pillar in any modern science education" that is supported by a "massive body of scientific evidence."

" 'Intelligent design' is a religious idea that deserves no place in the science classroom at all," according to the letter, sent in response to Comer's resignation.

Comer was put on 30 days of paid administrative leave shortly after she forwarded an e-mail in late October announcing a presentation being given by Barbara Forrest, author of "Creationism's Trojan Horse," which says creationist politics are behind the movement to get intelligent design theory taught in public schools. Comer sent the e-mail to several science educators and two science education e-mail lists, with the note: "FYI."

State records show that supervisors told Comer that she would be fired if she refused to resign because, by using her agency account to forward the e-mail, she implied that the agency agreed with Forrest's criticism.

In an interview with the Statesman last year, Comer said the actions of science curriculum employees at the agency had been subject to increasing scrutiny in 2007 as the State Board of Education prepared to consider revisions to the science curriculum for all Texas public school students.

The board was originally slated to consider the science curriculum earlier this year but has postponed that discussion until November. The board plans to hold a first vote on the curriculum in January and a final vote in March.

mbloom@statesman.com; 445-3620

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Fmr. Science Director Sues Over 'Neutral' Policy on Intelligent Design

By Lawrence Jones
Christian Post Reporter
Mon, Jul. 07 2008
http://www.christianpost.com/article/20080707/fmr-science-director-sues-over-neutral-policy-on-intelligent-design.htm

A former science curriculum director for the Texas Education Agency, who lost her job for violating a policy that required employees to be neutral on creationism, has filed a federal lawsuit to have the policy declared unconstitutional.

Christina Comer alleges in the suit that she was forced to resign last year after forwarding an e-mail that promoted a lecture by a speaker who opposed intelligent design. She is suing the TEA and Education Commissioner Robert Scott to overturn the "neutral" policy and be reinstated to her old job.

The suit contends that the policy violates the Constitution because it amounts to an endorsement of religion.

"By professing 'neutrality,' the Agency credits creationism as a valid scientific theory," argues the court papers. "The agency's 'neutrality' policy violates the Establishment Clause … because it has the purpose or effect of endorsement of religion."

TEA has not responded to the suit.

But in a Nov. 5 memorandum recommending her termination, the intelligent design e-mail was cited as one of a "series of incidents evidencing a serious lack of good judgment and failure to follow agency policies."

One example of Comer's misconduct, according to the document, included an earlier incident in which she publicly told a body of Texas educators that Robert Scott was only acting commissioner and that there was no real leadership in the agency. Other incidents involved Comer not obtaining permission from the TEA prior to speaking or presenting materials at engagements.

Comer handed in her resignation letter on Nov. 7, just months ahead of the TEA’s State Board of Education reviews of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, which determine what should be taught in the classrooms and what textbooks are bought.

"Ms. Comer should be well aware of her role in the TEKS revision process and the need to maintain neutrality based on the guidance provided by the agency management," stated the memo.

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EVOLUTION WATCH

Job lost for opposing neutrality to intelligent design

Professors back her, saying it's state's job to squash 'religion' in classrooms


Posted: July 08, 2008
WorldNetDaily
http://worldnetdaily.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=69074

A former official with the Texas Education Agency has sued the TEA in U.S. District Court, claiming she was forced out of her job for opposing intelligent design theory and that the TEA's dictate on neutrality toward ID violates a constitutional separation of church and state.

ID theory asserts that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not a random, undirected force such as natural selection, which is part of the foundational faith of evolutionists.

Christina Comer's lawsuit claims that even neutrality toward ID theory or creationist theory in the state's classrooms gives the theories more credit than they deserve by elevating "religion" to the level of science and therefore constitutes state endorsement of religion.

Specifically, the lawsuit states, "By professing 'neutrality,' the Agency unconstitutionally credits creationism, a religious belief, as a valid scientific theory. The Agency's policy is not neutral at all, because it has the purpose or effect of inviting dispute about whether to teach creationism as science in public schools." The section concludes that the existence of a neutrality policy, therefore, "has the purpose or effect of endorsing religion."

Comer's lawsuit also quotes an open letter to the commissioner of the TEA from 121 doctorate-level professors of biology at Texas universities, protesting her termination and supporting the assertion that state curriculum officials cannot remain neutral, but must actively oppose intelligent design theory.

Quoted from the lawsuit, the letter reads, "It is inappropriate to expect the TEA's director of science curriculum to 'remain neutral' on this subject, any more than astronomers should 'remain neutral' about whether the Earth goes around the sun. In the world of science, evolution is equally well-supported and accepted as heliocentrism (the theory that the sun is the center of our solar system).

"Far from remaining neutral, it is the clear duty of the science staff at TEA and all other Texas educators to speak out unequivocally: evolution is a central pillar in any modern science education, while 'intelligent design' is a religious idea that deserves no place in the science classroom at all."

Last fall, Christina Comer was the science curriculum director for the TEA, the Texas state authority that develops curriculum guidelines for state schools, when she forwarded an email from her official TEA account to publicize an event called "Inside Creationism's Trojan Horse."

According to the lawsuit, Comer sent the message to two email groups and 36 science educators in the Austin, Tex., area, with her only commentary being "FYI" (for your information).

The email was brought to the attention of the TEA's Statewide Policy and Programs division, where Deputy Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds deemed it a violation of the TEA's neutrality policy, since it was sent from Comer's official TEA email account.

A termination memo from Curriculum Manager Monica Martinez explained the TEA's reasoning. Quoted from the lawsuit, the memo reads, in part, "The forwarding of this event announced by Ms. Comer, as the Director of Science, from her TEA email account constitutes much more than just sharing information.

"Ms. Comer's email implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that the TEA endorses the speaker's position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral."

The Christian Post reports that the termination memo further asserted that Comer's email was one of a "series of incidents evidencing a serious lack of good judgment and failure to follow agency policies."

The Post lists among the memo's other examples of misconduct an earlier incident in which Comer publicly criticized TEA Commissioner Robert Scott and other TEA leadership before a body of Texas educators. It also listed incidents where Comer had not obtained TEA permission before speaking or presenting materials a various events.

Faced with pending termination, Comer chose to resign. Her lawsuit now seeks reinstatement, a declaration of the TEA's neutrality policy toward ID as unconstitutional and an injunction against the TEA to prevent it from creating a policy "that in any way credits creationism as a valid scientific theory."

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Texas Citizens for Science
Last updated: 2008 July 13