Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Finally, a Victory for us Good Guys!

Judge Bars 'Intelligent Design' From Classrooms
By MARTHA RAFFAELE, AP

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Dec. 20) -- "Intelligent design" cannot be mentioned in biology classes in a Pennsylvania public school district, a federal judge said Tuesday, ruling in one of the biggest courtroom clashes on evolution since the 1925 Scopes trial.

Dover Area School Board members violated the Constitution when they ordered that its biology curriculum include the notion that life on Earth was produced by an unidentified intelligent cause, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III said. Several members repeatedly lied to cover their motives, he said.

The ruling will not likely be appealed by the slate of new board members, who in the November election ousted the group that installed intelligent design, the new board president said Tuesday.

The school board policy, adopted in October 2004, was believed to have been the first of its kind in the nation.

"The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy," Jones wrote, calling the board's decision "breathtaking inanity."

"The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources," he wrote.

The board's attorneys had said members were seeking to improve science education by exposing students to alternatives to Charles Darwin's theory that evolution develops through natural selection. Intelligent-design proponents argue that the theory cannot fully explain the existence of complex life forms.

The plaintiffs challenging the policy argued that intelligent design amounts to a secular repackaging of biblical creationism, which the courts have already ruled cannot be taught in public schools.

The judge agreed.

"We find that the secular purposes claimed by the Board amount to a pretext for the Board's real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom," he wrote in his 139-page opinion.

The Dover policy required students to hear a statement about intelligent design before ninth-grade biology lessons on evolution. The statement said Darwin's theory is "not a fact" and has inexplicable "gaps." It refers students to an intelligent design textbook, "Of Pandas and People," for more information.

Jones wrote that he wasn't saying the intelligent design concept shouldn't be studied and discussed, saying its advocates "have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors."

However, he wrote, "our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom."

The controversy divided the borough of Dover and surrounding Dover Township, a rural area of nearly 20,000 residents about 20 miles south of Harrisburg. It galvanized voters to oust eight incumbent school board members who supported the policy in the Nov. 8 school board election. The ninth board member was not up for re-election.

Said the judge: "It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy."

The board members were replaced by a slate of eight opponents who pledged to remove intelligent design from the science curriculum.

They also will likely drop the old plan now that the judge has ruled, new board president Bernadette Reinking said. "As far as I can tell you, there is no intent to appeal," she said.

Reinking said the new board will likely move the subject of intelligent design into some undetermined elective social studies class. She said the board will need to talk to its attorney before determining specific actions.

Eric Rothschild, lead attorney for the families who challenged the policy, called the ruling "a real vindication for the parents who had the courage to stand up and say there was something wrong in their school district."

Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., said he would like to appeal the decision, but it was up to the school board.

"What this really looks like is an ad hominem attack on scientists who happen to believe in God," Thompson said of Jones' ruling.

It was the latest chapter in a debate over the teaching of evolution dating back to the famous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, in which Tennessee biology teacher John T. Scopes was fined $100 for violating a state law that forbade teaching evolution. The Tennessee Supreme Court reversed his conviction on a technicality, and the law was repealed in 1967.

Jones heard arguments in the fall during a six-week trial in which expert witnesses for each side debated intelligent design's scientific merits. Other witnesses, including current and former school board members, disagreed over whether creationism was discussed in board meetings months before the curriculum change was adopted.

It is among at least a handful of cases that have focused new attention on the teaching of evolution in the nation's schools.

Earlier this month, a federal appeals court in Georgia heard arguments over evolution disclaimer stickers placed in a biology textbooks. A federal judge in January had ordered Cobb County school officials to immediately remove the stickers, which called evolution a theory, not a fact.

In November, state education officials in Kansas adopted new classroom science standards that call the theory of evolution into question.

Kansas Board of Education Chairman Steve Abrams, who supported that state's new standards, said the circumstances in Kansas and Pennsylvania are much different, given that the Dover board mandated intelligent design in its curriculum.

"We're not doing that," he said. "It's about teaching good critical thinking skills."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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