ACLU Hails Historic Ruling in Dover, Pennsylvania "Intelligent Design" Case

December 20, 2005 12:00 am

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Court Rules “Intelligent Design” is Not Science

> The Case Against “Intelligent Design”

Opinion of Judge John E. Jones III

Historic Victory in Dover, Pa. “Intelligent Design” Case (12/20/05)
Parents, Scientists Testify (10/13/05)
Witness Says ID Is Disguised Creationism (10/5/05)
Pa. Parents Challenge ID (12/14/04)

HARRISBURG, PA – “Intelligent design” is a particular religious belief, not a valid scientific theory, and teaching it in public school science classrooms violates the Constitution, according to Judge John E. Jones III’s ruling today in Kitzmiller v. Dover.

The verdict in the landmark federal case, which was the first legal challenge to teaching “intelligent design,” is a victory for the 11 parents from Dover, Pennsylvania who were plaintiffs in the case and their attorneys: the American Civil Liberties Union, Pepper Hamilton, LLP, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. The judge’s decision strikes down a controversial Dover Area School Board policy adopted in October 2004 that required high school science teachers to present “intelligent design” as an alternative to evolution. Judge Jones ruled that the policy violated the plaintiffs’ religious liberty and that the school board acted to promote their own religious views rather than advance science education.

“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,” Judge Jones wrote in his opinion. “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.”

The trial has sparked a national debate prompting school districts, elected officials, academics and religious leaders to publicly oppose teaching “intelligent design” in the science classroom. While the case has often been compared to the Scopes trial, attorneys for the plaintiffs say comparisons to cases about “creation science” are more accurate, such as McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education and Edwards v. Aguillard. In McLean, a federal judge ruled that “creation science” did not qualify as a scientific theory, striking down Arkansas’ law requiring equal time for “creation science” and evolution. In Edwards, the Supreme Court ruled that a law requiring that “creation science” be taught with evolution was unconstitutional, because the law was specifically intended to advance a particular religion.

“Today’s verdict is truly a victory for the Constitution,” said ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director Witold Walczak, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs. “We are very pleased Judge Jones agreed with the plaintiffs and that public school science instruction will not be muddled with religious beliefs masquerading as scientific theories.”

“Intelligent design” is an assertion that an intelligent, supernatural entity has intervened in the history of life. Witnesses in the trial demonstrated that such an assertion is inherently a religious argument that falls outside the realm of science. Judge Jones agreed in his opinion.

“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,” Judge Jones wrote. “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.”

The defense in the case repeatedly denied any connection between creationism and “intelligent design.” The testimony of witness Barbara Forrest, Ph.D., an expert on “intelligent design” and co-author of Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, undermined such claims. Forrest traced the development of Of Pandas and People, an “intelligent design”-focused textbook that was at the center of the Kitzmiller case. Comparing drafts of the textbook received after attorneys subpoenaed the book’s authors, Forrest showed that the publishers simply replaced the word “creationism” with the phrase “intelligent design” after the Supreme Court decision in Edwards.

“We hope today’s decision sends a strong message to proponents of creationism that it is inappropriate to attempt to advance a particular religious belief at the expense of our children’s education,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “Teaching students about religion in world history or social studies is proper, but disguising a particular religious belief as science is not.”

Walczak noted that the religious strife in Dover was as disturbing as it was predictable: “The genius of our founding fathers was to recognize that religion is so important and so personal that government cannot be allowed to take sides. And when it does, people are divided along religious lines. Dover is exhibit A for how that works.”

The six-week bench trial began in September and closed Nov. 4 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs were represented by Eric Rothschild, Stephen G. Harvey, Alfred Wilcox and Thomas B. Schmidt of law firm Pepper Hamilton; Walczak and Paula K. Knudsen of the ACLU of Pennsylvania; and Ayesha Khan, Richard Katskee and Alex J. Luchenitser of Americans United.

The full opinion and additional information on Kitzmiller v. Dover is available online at

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