Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Another blow to “Intelligent Design”

Fundamentalist Christians have been trying to introduce their religious dogma into Public Schools in America for decades. The latest effort has been to put lipstick on the pig of Creationism by renaming it “Intelligent Design” and trying to get it introduced as a “scientific alternative to evolution” in High School science classes.

In October of 2004, the school board of Dover, Pennsylvania became the first in the nation to mandate the teaching of “Intelligent Design” in its Public school science classes. Outraged parents, concerned about this Fundamentalist Christian attack on scientific discipline and intellectual honesty, struck back on two fronts. First, they filed suit against the School Board that had introduced this mandate, claiming that the mandate violated the separation of church and state. And second, they organized to oust the School Board members in the upcoming election.

They have now succeeded on both fronts. Last month, in a victory for local activism and common sense, all 8 of the School Board members who ran for re-election were defeated. And today, in a Federal Court in Harrisburg Pennsylvania, “Intelligent Design” was dealt a stinging defeat. Not only did the judge rule that the School Board was wrong to mandate the teaching of Intelligent Design, it ordered them to pay the court costs of those parents who filed suit. The opinion of Judge John E. Jones III, a Republican appointee of George Bush, is well worth reading;

The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.

Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.

To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. 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.

With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. 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.

To preserve the separation of church and state mandated by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Art. I, § 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, we will enter an order permanently enjoining Defendants from maintaining the ID Policy in any school within the Dover Area School District, from requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution, and from requiring teachers to refer to a religious, alternative theory known as ID. We will also issue a declaratory judgment that Plaintiffs’ rights under the Constitutions of the United States and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have been violated by Defendants’ actions.

Defendants’ actions in violation of Plaintiffs’ civil rights as guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 subject Defendants to liability with respect to injunctive and declaratory relief, but also for nominal damages and the reasonable value of Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ services and costs incurred in vindicating Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

John E. Jones III
United States District Judge

Game, set and match.

It would be nice to believe that this would signal the end of this debate, but it probably won’t. However, the forces of darkness and religious intolerance have certainly been dealt a major blow.

If one is interested in reading more about this debate, the Wikipedia entry about Intelligent Design is pretty comprehensive.

A belated “Hats off” to the good citizens of Dover, PA and a rousing cheer of approval for Judge Jones.

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