U.S. board forced to defend 'intelligent design
ASSOCIATED PRESSHARRISBURG, Pa. - "Intelligent design" is a religious theory that was inserted in a school district's curriculum with no concern for whether it had scientific underpinnings, a lawyer told a federal judge Monday as a landmark trial got underway.
"They did everything you would do if you wanted to incorporate a religious point of view in science class and cared nothing about its scientific validity," said Eric Rothschild, a lawyer representing eight families who are challenging the decision of the Dover Area School District.
But in his opening statement, the school district's lawyer defended Dover's policy of requiring ninth-grade students to hear a brief statement about intelligent design before biology classes on evolution.
"This case is about free inquiry in education, not about a religious agenda," argued Patrick Gillen of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. "Dover's modest curriculum change embodies the essence of liberal education." The centre, which lobbies for what it sees as the religious freedom of Christians, is defending the school district.
Eighty years after the Scopes Monkey Trial, the opening of the trial in federal court marked the latest legal chapter in the debate over the teaching of evolution in public school.
The eight families argue that the district policy violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
About 75 spectators crowded the courtroom of U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III for the start of the non-jury trial.
Arguing that intelligent design is a religious theory, not science, Rothschild said he would show that the language in the school district's own policy made clear its religious intent.
Dover is believed to be the first school system in the country to require students be exposed to the intelligent-design concept under a policy adopted by a 6-3 vote in October 2004.
Intelligent design, a concept some scholars have advanced over the past 15 years, holds that Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection cannot fully explain the origin of life or the emergence of highly complex life forms. It implies that life on Earth was the product of an unidentified intelligent force.
Critics say intelligent design is merely creationism — a literal reading of the Bible's story of creation — camouflaged in scientific language, and it does not belong in a science curriculum.
The history of evolution litigation dates 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 the narrow ground that only a jury trial could impose a fine exceeding $50, and the law was repealed in 1967.