Lawsuit against science center settled

A lawsuit against the California Science Center for canceling a screening of Darwin's Dilemma was settled in July 2011, the Associated Press reports (August 29, 2011), with neither side admitting wrongdoing.{C} As NCSE previously reported, the lawsuit was filed by the American Freedom Alliance, which arranged to screen the film — described by the Los Angeles Times (December 29, 2009) as "a feature-length documentary that criticizes Darwin and promotes intelligent design" — at the CSC in October 2009. After the Discovery Institute issued a press release touting the event and implying that the Smithsonian Institution, with which the CSC is affiliated, was involved, the CSC canceled the screening on the grounds that the press release violated the terms of the rental contract, which provides that all promotional materials for events must be approved beforehand by the CSC. The AFA then sued in Los Angeles Superior Court on October 14, 2009, charging that the CSC's actions violated both the First Amendment and the terms of the rental contract.

In what the Los Angeles Times (August 29, 2011) described as "an unusual provision," the settlement "called for Science Center officials to invite the Freedom Assn. to show the film and for the association to immediately turn them down, a statement from the center said." Additionally, the AFA is to receive $110,000 as part of the settlement, of which $100,000 will be paid by the CSC's insurer and $10,000 by the California Science Center Foundation, a separate entity. In a statement dated August 29, 2011, the CSC Foundation emphasized (PDF) that the settlement was intended to "avoid the expense of further litigation." The statement added, "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. Unfortunately, it appears that neither the Discovery Institute nor AFA have learned their lesson," alluding to a string of triumphal press releases about the settlement.

NCSE's Steven Newton, a geologist, told the Associated Press that Darwin's Dilemma is "a distortion of what real scientists think about the Cambrian Period ... The way the film does this is by showing snippets of real paleontologists next to people who have never published a paper on paleontology talking about creationism," adding that showing it in a science museum would be like showing a film about the Civil War that credited the South with victory in a history museum. Speaking to ScienceInsider (August 31, 2011), Newton said that because the settlement involved no admission of wrongdoing, the case was "without clear victors," but regretted the expense and distraction to the CSC: "It cost CSC a fair bit of money, and was time away from the core mission." ScienceInsider reported, "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.'" Documents from the case, AFA v. CSC et al., are available on NCSE's website.