The California Science Center in Los Angeles is being sued by a right wing group called the American Freedom Alliance (that claims to be “non-partisan”), for canceling a “documentary” film that features anti-evolution propaganda from the creationist “think tank” known as the Discovery Institute.
L.A.’s California Science Center will start the new year defending itself in court for canceling a documentary film attacking Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
A lawsuit alleges that the state-owned center improperly bowed to pressure from the Smithsonian Institution, as well as e-mailed complaints from USC professors and others. It contends that the center violated both the 1st Amendment and a contract to rent the museum’s Imax Theater when it canceled the screening of “Darwin’s Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record.”
The suit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by the American Freedom Alliance, an L.A.-based group described by senior fellow Avi Davis as a nonprofit, nonpartisan “think tank and activist network promoting Western values and ideals.”
The AFA seeks punitive damages and compensation for financial losses, as well as a declaration from the court that the center violated the Constitution and cannot refuse the group the right to rent its facilities for future events.
But digging into the article a bit further reveals the reason for the cancellation: the Discovery Institute playing their same old dishonest games, giving themselves a false aura of respectability by misrepresenting the event as being sponsored by the Smithsonian. And it’s not the first time they’ve tried to glom onto the Smithsonian’s reputation.
On Oct. 5, the science center, one of 165 national affiliates of the Smithsonian that enjoy special access to loans from its massive collection, received an alert — and a complaint — from Harold Closter, director of the Smithsonian’s affiliates program. Closter gave the science center the head’s-up about a news release that had been issued not by the AFA but by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that promotes intelligent design and whose researchers are featured in “Darwin’s Dilemma.” In an e-mail that’s an exhibit in the lawsuit, he wrote that the news release wrongly implied that the California Science Center is “a West Coast branch of the Smithsonian, and that the film showing is a Smithsonian event.” Closter asked science center officials to correct the error but did not mention canceling the screening.
The Smithsonian has a history with the Discovery Institute: In an embarrassing episode in 2005, it approved Discovery’s rental of an auditorium at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History for a screening of a different film promoting intelligent design. That led to an outcry from the scientific community. But, having signed a contract, the Smithsonian allowed the screening to go forward, trying to distance itself from the event by returning the $16,000 rental fee and emphasizing that the Smithsonian did not endorse the screening.
The California Science Center, in contrast, canceled the AFA’s screening on Oct. 6, saying that the AFA had violated its rental agreement.
Science center President Jeffrey Rudolph said in a statement entered in the case file that the news release violated a standard contractual requirement: All promotional materials for outside users’ events must be submitted to the museum before they can be made public.
The lawsuit filed by the American Freedom Alliance is a study in creationist paranoia, claiming there’s a conspiracy of “Darwinists” out to get them, and denying that the contract violation (which they apparently do not dispute) was the reason for the cancellation:
The AFA’s suit, filed Oct. 14, contends that the contract issue was a “false pretext” and that pressure from the Smithsonian and the academic community was the real reason for canceling the film. It alleges that Rudolph first met with museum board members, then “contrived a justification” — the unauthorized news release — for preventing the screening. The AFA says that it should not have been held responsible for a release that it didn’t issue itself.
The AFA alleges that in failing to be honest and open about its reasons for negating the contract, the science center committed a contract fraud that should now expose it to punitive damages on top of the $75,000 or more that Davis says the AFA lost by hastily having to transfer the $20 per ticket screening to a smaller space at USC’s Davidson Conference Center, where the pro-Darwin Imax film could not be shown properly.
Rudolph declined to comment last week, saying in a prepared statement that the screening “was canceled because of issues related to the contract.”
The Smithsonian is not a defendant in the suit. The huge, Washington, D.C. research and museum institution is federally chartered and receives part of its funding from the federal government. The suit contends, however, that the Smithsonian was part of “a broad network of Darwin advocates [that] … jointly conspired” with the California Science Center to stop its film screening. A spokeswoman said the Smithsonian had no comment.
UPDATE at 12/29/09 5:55:14 pm:
The movie, by the way, is an extended exercise in quote mining, crappy animation, and creationist talking points about the so-called “Cambrian Explosion.” Here’s the trailer, which starts with an infamously out-of-context quote from Stephen Jay Gould that creationists love to repeat even though it’s been demonstrated over and over to be highly misleading, and not at all representative of Gould’s true opinion:
More on this bogus “documentary” here; it appears that the filmmakers misled scientists into appearing in the film:
Have creationists tricked scientists yet again?
Cambrian Confusion: Some answers, more questions