Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Judge bans teaching intelligent design

Judge bans teaching intelligent design
(Note: The judge is a Republican appointed by Bush.)
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 voters.

"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 resources."

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 said.

"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.