December 20, 2005

Judge bans teaching intelligent design

By Jon Hurdle

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A judge on Tuesday barred the
teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution
at a Pennsylvania school, saying in a scathing rebuke to the
school board that it violated a constitutional ban on teaching
religion in public schools.

U.S. District Judge John Jones dealt a blow to Christian
conservatives, who have been pressing for the teaching of
creationism in schools and who played a significant role in the
re-election of President George W. Bush.

"Our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to
teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in a
public school classroom," Jones wrote in a 139-page opinion in
the case, brought against the Dover School District.

Jones condemned the "breathtaking inanity" of the policy of
the board, all but one of whom have now been ousted by local

"Any asserted secular purposes by the board are a sham and
are merely secondary to a religious objective," he said.

Intelligent design holds that some aspects of nature are so
complex that they must have been the work of an unnamed creator
rather than the result of random natural selection, as argued
by Charles Darwin in his 1859 theory of evolution.

Opponents argue it is a thinly disguised version of
creationism -- a belief that the world was created by God as
described in the Book of Genesis -- which the Supreme Court has
ruled may not be taught in public schools.

Jones said the students and teachers of Dover High School
"deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom
with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal

The school district was sued by a group of 11 parents who
claimed teaching intelligent design was unconstitutional and
unscientific and had no place in high school biology class.

In his ruling, the judge suggested the parents file a claim
for damages and legal fees against the school district.


Christy Rehm, one of the plaintiffs, said: "This is a
victory for education, a victory for science and a victory for
science education."

Richard Thompson, head of the Thomas More Law Center which
represented the defendants, said in a statement: "The founders
of this country would be astonished at the thought that this
simple curriculum change (was) in violation of the constitution
that they drafted."

Asked about the ruling, White House spokesman Scott
McClellan said the president has said he believed such
decisions should be made by local school districts.

"The president has also said that he believes students
ought to be exposed to different theories and ideas so that
they can fully understand what the debate is about," he said.

The six-week Harrisburg trial, one of the highest-profile
court cases on evolution since the 1925 Scopes "monkey trial,"
was closely watched by Christian conservatives in other states
who are planning similar initiatives.

The Washington-based Americans United for Separation of
Church and State called the court decision "a significant blow
to religious right-led efforts to sneak fundamentalist dogma
into public schools under the guise of science."

Richard Katskee, assistant legal director of the group,
called the decision "a cautionary tale" for other school
districts that might be considering similar initiatives.

Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based
think-tank that champions intelligent design theory, criticized
the ruling.

"The judge thinks intelligent design is a supernatural
explanation, but it clearly is not. So the entire decision is
predicated on a false perception of intelligent design," Luskin

"This is by no means the end of this issue, legally
speaking," said Luskin, adding that the court only has
jurisdiction over part of Pennsylvania.

Eugenie Scott, head of the National Center for Science
Education, called the ruling, "a major victory for science
education," but said she expected challenges against evolution
to continue.

In October 2004, Dover became the first U.S. school
district to include intelligent design in science curriculum.

Ninth-grade biology students were presented with a
four-paragraph statement saying that evolution is a theory, not
a fact, and that there are "gaps" in the theory. The statement
invited students to consider other explanations of the origins
of life, including intelligent design.