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Teaching the theory of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in a Pennsylvania public school is unconstitutional. That was the ruling handed down by a federal judge earlier today in Harrisburg. The closely watched and highly controversial case involved the Dover area school board. Last year the board ordered that intelligent design be introduced in biology classes alongside the theory that life evolved by natural selection. A group of parents sued the school board. They claimed that teaching intelligent design was unconstitutional.

For more on today's ruling, we're joined by Aries Keck, who's been covering this case for our member station in Philadelphia, WHYY.

Thanks very much for being with us today.

ARIES KECK reporting:

Well, thank you.

CONAN: How did this end up in federal court?

KECK: Well, it ended up in federal court because when the parents decided to sue, they sued under the establishment clause, which was the idea of bringing religion into public schools. And there's a lot of Supreme Court law and other jurisprudence out there about bringing science, creation science, creationism, into classes. And one of the important parts of their argument was that intelligent design was really the same as creation science; it just had a different name to it.

CONAN: And creation science had already been held as something you can't teach in science.

KECK: Exactly.

CONAN: And, indeed, to some degree, the ruling today was intelligent design is interesting; its adherents believe very sincerely in it; it's just not science.

KECK: That was one of the most interesting parts of the entire trial. I mean, there were days on days when scientific experts would get up and discuss the merits of intelligent design as a science. And in his ruling, the judge in this case, Judge Johnny Jones III, he decided legally that intelligent design is a religious idea and not a scientific idea. And in his very long, extensive ruling in this case, he really broke down all the different places along the way during the trial in which the testimony was unconvincing that intelligent design is a science and not a religious idea. And that was one of the two prongs of the parents' saying that they didn't want this in their classroom, that intelligent design was a religious idea and, thus, shouldn't be in science classes. Any other class would be OK, but putting it in science classes right before evolution was akin to putting religion in their science class.

CONAN: He also had some scathing terminology for those members of the school board who initiated this: `It is ironic,' the judge wrote, `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 intelligent design policy.' Now what did he mean by that?

KECK: Well, that's true. He--during the trial, the--it was a very congenial trial; there was a lot of humor during it. The one time that Judge Jones really showed some emotion is--and he almost took over the cross-examination of a school board member in asking them, `Who paid for these textbooks?' At one point last year, a box of some 50 textbooks of a textbook, "Of Pandas and People," was given anonymously to this Dover School Library. And no one would say where the books came from or who may or may not have paid for them. It came out in the trial that a school board member's father had written the check to pay for the books.

But in the testimony, it was--he was trying--the judge himself ended up taking over the cross-examination to get to who knew what when. And at that point, I think that was the turning point for his decision in this case of--that the school board members weren't doing what they said they were doing. They weren't trying to put forward what they see as an alternative scientific idea into classrooms, but instead they were trying to do some behind-the-scenes finagling to get creationism into the science classrooms.

Also, those textbooks are cited in the judge's decision in that, in many cases, they'd take statements that used to be in creation science textbooks and just change the words and just really whited out the wording `creation science' and put `intelligent design' right into the same blocks of paragraphs.

CONAN: So an important ruling in a case that's been described as the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century. Thanks very much, Aries Keck. Appreciate your time today.

KECK: Yeah. You're welcome.

CONAN: Aries Keck, a reporter who covered the situation for member station WHYY in Philadelphia, and she joined us from that station today.

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