In what antievolution proponents praise as a great victory
and scientists and science educators rue as a case of poor judgment, the California Science Center (CSC) has agreed to pay $110,000 to a group that
went to court after the center cancelled an agreement to show an antievolution film.
CSC had been sued by the California-based think tank American Freedom Alliance, which alleged that the science center was illegally censoring
intelligent design (ID) by cancelling its booking. The settlement, which was
announced on Monday, contains no admission of fault on either side. But CSC does agree to pay damages to AFA and invite it to reschedule the event, originally
planned for 25 October 2009. AFA has refused the offer.
The dispute began after AFA signed a contract with the state-run CSC to rent CSC's IMAX theatre for the premier of a prointelligent design documentary, Darwin's Dilemma. The group planned to hold a debate afterward between creationists and evolutionary scientists. But CSC cancelled the screening
after the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that advocates intelligent design, sent out press releases promoting the event. Casey Luskin,
policy analyst at the Discovery Institute, says that is standard practice with events and films that feature the organization's members. The center
claimed that AFA was in breach of the terms of a contract that required it to seek CSC's "approval prior to issuing any press releases" and that the two groups were colluding to drum up a controversy.
AFA responded on 14 October by suing CSC in Los Angeles Superior Court. The science center, it claimed, had come under pressure from scientists and
advocacy groups to not show the film, and had found a convenient, "false pretext" to get out of the contract and cancel the film. An e-mail from 5
October that was entered into evidence described how the Smithsonian Institution, of which CSC is a national affiliate, expressed its concern about the
planned screening. Numerous scientific organizations and individuals also contacted CSC to express their concerns about the film being shown at a
publicly funded institution and urged the center to cancel the event.
The science center
denies that the cancellation came under pressure. "The cancellation was never about the content of the program, as indicated by the fact that the foundation was willing to have the event in the first
place. It was about the false and misleading press releases that the Discovery Institute and AFA issued," the science center said in a statement
Monday. It added that it only settled to "avoid further proceedings and return the [California Science Center] Foundation's focus to the important work
that it has at hand—rather than be distracted by AFA's meritless litigation." According to CSC's press release, the $110,000 settlement is covered
by an insurer.
Luskin views the settlement as a victory for "free speech rights. … Our problem was not that the California Science Center disagrees, they were trying
to prevent [ID's] right to be heard." The lesson, he adds, is that "if you are so intolerant of ID that you're going to illegally suppress it, you
might have to pay six figures."
Steven Newton, a geologist at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), an Oakland, California-based nonprofit organization that monitors
creationism activities, disputes Luskin's characterization of the settlement, saying it was a case "without clear victors." But NCSE and
others in the science crowd believe that the science museum ended up with egg on its face.
"It cost CSC a fair bit of money, and was time away from the core mission," Newton says. NCSE had urged CSC not to cancel the screening, says Newton,
to avoid creating any martyrs for the ID movement. Instead, NCSE had sent e-mails to California area
science professionals, encouraging them to "show up and ask difficult questions."