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Evidence Revealed in California Science Center Lawsuit Shows Intolerance and Efforts to Suppress Intelligent Design


Readers who could use a bit of background to the unfolding media war about evidence of censorship by the CSC may find the following to be helpful.

In October 2009, a non-profit group in Los Angeles called the American Freedom Alliance (AFA) contracted with the California Science Center (CSC) to rent CSC's IMAX theater to screen the documentary Darwin's Dilemma. However, when CSC learned that the film documentary portrayed the theory of intelligent design (ID) in a positive light, CSC abruptly cancelled AFA's already-contracted event. Because CSC repeatedly refused to honor its agreement, AFA sought relief by filing suit in California Superior Court alleging viewpoint discrimination and breach of contract.

As we have recently covered here on ENV, the lawsuit settled this month, with the CSC agreeing to pay AFA $110,000 to avoid a public trial, and also inviting AFA back to host the event as it should have done in the first place. Why did CSC choose to settle the case rather than go to trial? Documents disclosed during the course of litigation show that employees of the CSC, the Smithsonian Institution (SI), and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC), joined with other LA-area academics to suppress the expression of ID, most egregiously by pressing CSC to cancel AFA's event. CSC decision-makers gladly capitulated to this pressure, and its cancellation of AFA's event was merely the tip of an iceberg of intolerance, involving a number of censorious scientists and scholars.

According to these documents, multiple government-backed science museums sought to suppress AFA's constitutional and contractual right to express a pro-intelligent design viewpoint. Staff at the SI, NHMLAC, USC and other academic institutions repeatedly expressed in email their animus toward ID by wrongly labeling it "creationism," "religious propaganda," "bad science," an "essentially religious philosophy of creation,"1 and "pseudo-scientific ideolog[y] masquerading as science."2 One CSC vice president observed that "scientists sure get pissed off about this subject,"3 and an executive at the SI said SI needed engagement on ID like the institution needed a "hole in the head."4

CSC cancelled the event because it disliked the 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."5 That e-mail alone provides evidence that viewpoint discrimination was at work.

But CSC was ready with a pretext: It publicly claimed the cancellation flowed from AFA's alleged noncompliance with a publicity provision of the event contract. In private e-mails, meanwhile, 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."6

Further articulating CSC's uninviting 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"7 since "their topic of Darwinism and the nature of their controversial approach is likely not a good fit to partner w/a Science Center."8 In a striking e-mail, 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."9
In case it isn't clear, the above statement shows that CSC first wanted to cancel AFA's event and then sought an ostensibly lawful reason to cancel. That is to say that CSC did not cancel because of any alleged contract violation on the part of AFA. This contradicts CSC's claim that AFA's alleged breach triggered the cancellation. Sion then jubilantly announces the manufacture of plausible deniability: "They did receive an agreement w/ the following language -- hope this covers us well!"10

As a final refutation of CSC's pretext, 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 11"
Thus, CSC has apparently been giving two different stories about why they cancelled the event: one version for the public and the other reason--the true reason--spoken of privately. 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.

The difference between the public and private stories told by CSC shows that they had one version of the story -- a pretext -- for the public, but quite a different version when privately reassuring other intolerant scientists and scientific organizations whose favor the CSC desired to maintain.

The Smithsonian Gets Involved: "Cease and Desist" because ID is "Against SI/MNH Policy"
CSC is a museum affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution. In this case, the anti-ID Smithsonian Institution marshaled its considerable influence over its affiliate, virtually mandating that CSC cancel AFA's event, a command happily followed by CSC. Staff members at the Smithsonian Institution were incensed that the CSC, one of their affiliate science museums, would rent a facility for a pro-ID event. SI spokesperson Linda St. Thomas exemplifies this intolerance:

This is one of our fears about affiliates. As you know, we cancelled an event about Intelligent Design (creationism) at MNH a couple years ago. It is against SI/MNH policy which is science and not religion. However, I have seen hundreds of twitters saying that SI is holding this premier, even though it is an affiliate in Calif. Can you tell them to cease and desist?12
St. Thomas is actually wrong because SI didn't cancel the ID event a few years ago when Discovery Institute rented an SI auditorium for a private screening of The Privileged Planet. What's important here is that St. Thomas thought that SI had cancelled the event, and was happy about that. And don't miss what St. Thomas says in the e-mail quoted above: ID is apparently officially "against SI/MNH policy"!

Shortly thereafter, SI Director of Affiliates Harold Closter rang CSC's Shell Amega, prompting Amega to bear the following warning to CSC execs:

"The Smithsonian institute called and was alarmed at the news release from a creationist organization, the Discovery Institute, below because it implied that the Science Center officially supports the creationist film."13
St. Thomas responds to Closter's report on his conversation with Amega by saying: "Wow, they let anybody rent their theatre!!! That leaves them open for problems, as I guess they are now finding out."14 SI Staffer Randal Kremer then writes to St. Thomas and Closter a brief paean to SI's ideological exclusivity before finally lamenting the cost of CSC's carelessness: "As you know, the Smithsonian has certain regulations concerning what we show in our theaters and who we allow to appear at events or use our facilities. Sounds like their open-ended policy with regard to booking their IMAX theater has created some problems for them, and for us."15

Pressure to Cancel from Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and Other LA Academics
Evolutionary biologists and other employees of the neighboring NHMLAC pressed the CSC to "cancel [AFA's] event," because Darwin's Dilemma was "a creationist film masquerading as a science documentary,"16 a criticism roundly taken for granted within Big Science, no justification required. Top brass at the NHMLAC was "horrified"17 that CSC might countenance an ID event of any sort. Even AFA's modest proposal to host a debate over evolution was deemed incongruent "with [CSC's] mission to educate the public about science."18 NHMLAC staff expressed their collective fury by drafting a letter disclaiming ID in strong language and urging cancellation on CSC by plainly demanding: "We urge you to cancel this event."19 By suggesting dire consequences for noncompliance, NHMLAC's demand turned threatening if not extortionary:
"We are also concerned that some of your current supporters and donors, including the State of California, might not continue to support CSC if it became known that you had, knowingly or otherwise, eschewed the presentation of solid science and instead offered a venue for spreading the religious propaganda that masquerades under the name Intelligent Design."20
Many other LA academics were "up in arms"21 over the event, including one USC professor who teaches law, Hilary Schor, who quite tellingly was "less troubled by the freedom of speech issues than why my tax dollars which support the California 'Science' Center are being spent on hosting religious propaganda."22 AFA's lawsuit complaint aptly observes that Schor's "sentiment, written by a law professor, demonstrates a disturbing, purposeful indifference to constitutional protections enshrined and safeguarded in the Bill of Rights."23

After witnessing the anger of these academics over CSC's allowing a group to rent its theatre to show a pro-ID film, CSC curator Ken Phillips then warned his CSC colleagues against granting a forum to proponents of ID:
"I personally have a real problem with anything that elevates the concept of intelligent design to a level that makes it appear as though it should be considered equally alongside Darwinian theory as a possible alternative to natural selection. In other words, I see us getting royally played by the Center for Science and Culture resulting in long term damage to our credibility and judgment for a very long time."24
Phillips is welcome to disagree with ID, but here he exemplifies something more: a culture of intolerance that wishes to suppress the pro-ID viewpoint within the California Science Center.

CSC Would Not have Rented had they Known "The Nature of the Groups Involved"
As further evidence of CSC's animus against ID, some e-mails reveal that CSC would have barred AFA from the start had it only known in advance the pro-ID viewpoint AFA sought to express. In a move meant to exonerate CSC in SI's eyes by demonstrating CSC's bias against ID, Amega reassures Closter that CSC had no idea of the nature of AFA's event:
They had no knowledge of the press release and did not even know about the film showing -- "Anyone can book our IMAX," she said. They are, of course, concerned now and conferring on next steps.25
Similarly, the business end of the CSC pacifies the science end when 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.'"26 The implication, of course, is that if CSC had known of the pro-ID "nature of the groups involved," they would not have allowed the rental in the first place.

Jeff Rudolph was "working on it." Ultimately it was he who gave the command to cancel AFA's event. Publicly Rudolph and the CSC claimed this was due to a contractual dispute, but privately there is much evidence that CSC gladly capitulated to pressure from other science institutions and scientists to suppress the pro-ID viewpoint.

There is more evidence in this case that we haven't discussed, but these are the highlights. They paint the picture of a culture of intolerance in which scientists and other academics, at least these in the LA area, believe it is normal, appropriate, and even necessary to actively stifle scientific views that dissent from Darwinian orthodoxy. The evidence in this case makes clear the discrimination that ID proponents face in the academy. After all, if ID proponents can't even rent a theater to host a private event to discuss intelligent design, what hope is there that ID will receive a fair hearing in the academy?

References Cited

[1.] California Science Center Foundation Production, CSCF0001184, 10/06/09 e-mail from Ken Phillips to Joe DeAmicis, Diane Perlov, Chuck Kopczak, David Bibas (Curator, Technology Programs, at the California Science Center), Krisztina Eleki (Curator of Life Science Programs, CSC) re: "Upcoming Creationist Movie at California Science Center."

[2.] NHMLAC Production, p. 34, 10/8/2009 Draft Letter from NHMLAC.

[3.] California Science Center Foundation Production, CSCF0000261, 10/07/09 E-mail from Chris Sion to Event Services re: "FW Upcoming Creationist Movie at California Science Center."

[4.] Smithsonian Production, 02/25/2010 SI--000205, 10/09/09 E-mail from Linda St. Thomas to Harold Closter, cc Evelyn Lieberman re: "FW Film showing cancelled."

[5.] CSCF0000253, 10/6/2009 e-mail from Chris Sion to Avi Davis, Joe Peterson, and Peter Bylsma re: "Notice of Cancellation of Event 10/25/09."

[6.] California Science Center Production, CSCF0001130, 10/5/2009 e-mail from Chris Sion to Cynthia Pygin, re: "CSC IMAX 10/25/09" (emphasis added).

[7.] California Science Center Foundation Production, CSCF0000261, 10/05/09 E-mail from Chris Sion to Shell Amega, William Harris, cc Paula Wagner, Kristina Kurasz, Joe DeAmicis, and Jeff Rudolph RE: "Creationist organization implies that the Calif. Science Center is sponsoring Darwin film."

[8.] California Science Center Foundation Production, CSCF0000153, 10/01/09 E-mail from Chris Sion to Jeff Rudolph re: "FYI - Request from Joel Strom."

[9.] California Science Center Foundation Production, CSCF0000242, 10/05/09 e-mail from Shell Amega to Chris Sion, re: "Creationist organization implies that the Calif. Science Center is sponsoring Darwin film."

[10.] California Science Center Foundation Production, CSCF0000242, 10/05/09 e-mail Chris Sion to Shell Amega RE: "Creationist organization implies that the Calif. Science Center is sponsoring Darwin film" (emphasis added).

[11.] NHMLAC Production, p. 75, 10/9/2009 E-mail from John Long re: "CSC ID event cancelled."

[12.] Smithsonian Production, 02/25/2010 SI--000191, 10/05/09 e-mail from Linda St. Thomas to Harold Closter, cc Randall Kremer re: "FW Google Alert - Smithsonian" (emphasis added).

[13.] California Science Center Foundation Production, CSCF0000318, 10/05/09 e-mail from Shell Amega to Jeff Rudolph, William Harris, cc Paula Wagner, Kristina Kurasz, Joe DeAmicis, Chris Sion re: "Creationist organization implies that the Calif. Science Center is sponsoring Darwin film."

[14.] Smithsonian Production, 02/25/2010 SI--000175, 10/05/09 e-mail from Linda St. Thomas to Harold Closter, Randall Kremer re: "Google Alert -- Smithsonian."

[15.] Smithsonian Production, 02/25/2010 SI--000172, 10/05/09 e-mail from Randall Kremer to Harold Closter, cc Linda St. Thomas re: "Google Alert -- Smithsonian."

[16.] NHMLAC Production, p. 34, 10/8/2009 Draft Letter from NHMLAC.

[17.] NHMLAC Production, p. 76, 10/08/2009 e-mail from John Long to Steve Newton, Eugenie Scott, Luis Chiappe, Ken Campbell, David Bottjer, and Kirk Fitzhugh, re: "Draft Letter Revised."


[18.] NHMLAC Production, p. 75, 10/9/2009 e-mail from John Long re: "CSC ID event cancelled."

[19.] NHMLAC Production, p. 36, 10/8/2009 Draft Letter from NHMLAC (emphasis added).

[20.] NHMLAC Production, p. 18, 10/8/2009 Draft Letter from NHMLAC.

[21.] California Science Center Foundation Production, CSCF0001052 and CSCF0000261, 10/06/09 e-mail from Dan Lewis to Ken Phillips re: "FW: Upcoming Creationist Movie at California Science Center."

[22.] California Science Center Foundation Production,, CSCF0000262 and CSC 000005, 10/06/09 e-mail from Hilary Schor to Brighde Mullins, Michael Quick, Dan Lewis, David Bottjer, Steve Finkel, and Craig Stanford re: "FW: Upcoming Creationist Movies at California Science Center"; see also NHMLAC Production p. 98, 12/29/09 E-mail from Tom Jacobson to Jane Pisano, Cynthia Wornham, Julia Rivera and Karen Wise re: "New Challenge for the Science Center LA Times story" by Mike Boehm therein quoting Hilary Schor.

[23.] American Freedom Alliance v. California Science Center, First Amended Complaint filed November 19, 2009, p. 16.

[24.] California Science Center Foundation Production, CSCF0001184, 10/06/09 e-mail from Ken Phillips to Joe DeAmicis, Diane Perlov, Chuck Kopczak, David Bibas (Curator, Technology Programs, at the California Science Center), Krisztina Eleki (Curator of Life Science Programs, CSC) re: "Upcoming Creationist Movie at California Science Center."

[25.] Smithsonian Production, 02/25/2010 SI--000190, 10/05/09 e-mail from Harold Closter to Randall Kremer, cc Linda St. Thomas re: "Google Alert -- Smithsonian,"

[26.] CSC000041, 10/6/2009, e-mail from Joe DeAmicis to Diane Perlov, Chuck Kopczak, and Ken Phillips re: "Upcoming Creationist Movie at California Science Center."