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A major defeat today for efforts to teach intelligent design in the public schools. A federal judge struck down a policy in the Dover, Pennsylvania, schools that required biology students to hear a statement supporting alternatives to evolution. Backers of intelligent design say life is too complex to have evolved entirely through natural means. But in strong language, the judge said the school board's policy was a thinly veiled attempt to force religion into the teaching of science and, therefore, unconstitutional. We'll have more analysis of the opinion in a few minutes. First, NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports on the ruling.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY reporting:
It was only a one-minute statement, but it sure did stir up trouble. A year ago the Dover school board waded deep into controversy when it decided that ninth-grade biology students should hear a disclaimer at the beginning of their evolution section. The statement said that evolution is a theory, not a fact, and that intelligent design is an alternative explanation to evolution. Eleven parents sued. They argued that intelligent design is religion, not science, and therefore has no place in biology class. Today, in a sweeping 139-page decision, Federal District Judge John Jones III agreed earning the enormous gratitude of parents like Tammy Kitzmiller.
Ms. TAMMY KITZMILLER (Parent): Thank you, Judge Jones. You listened to us as parents, you listened to us as plaintiffs, and you understood our roles as parents.
HAGERTY: In a press conference in Harrisburg after the decision was released, the plaintiffs and their lawyers could barely suppress their delight. Vic Walczak, the legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said for six exhausting weeks lawyers tried to show that intelligent design was a stepchild of creationism, and the judge accepted virtually every one of those arguments.
Mr. VIC WALCZAK (Legal Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania): We are absolutely thrilled that Judge Jones has seen through the smoke and mirrors and has ruled that intelligent design is not science but is, in fact, a particular religious view.
HAGERTY: Judge Jones wrote that intelligent design is, quote, "creationism relabeled." He said the school board members were motivated by their conservative Christian faith and tried to impose it on students. The judge accused board members of `selective memory' and `outright lies.' Jones then tackled the definition of science itself, writing that `intelligent design did not qualify because it relies on flawed and illogical theory and on the supernatural.' It was a pugnacious and powerful decision that defense attorney Richard Thompson at the Thomas More Law Center said way overreached.
Mr. RICHARD THOMPSON (Thomas More Law Center): What is really at stake here is a one-minute statement where intelligent design is mentioned twice, where evolution is still taught, where the teachers were specifically prohibited from teaching intelligent design or creationism. And for the court to say that that one-minute statement now is a violation of the establishment clause, I think, shows how silly our jurisprudence in this area has become.
HAGERTY: John West is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, which promotes intelligent design. He says the judge could have struck down the policy because it was religious, but he went too far in order to make history.
Mr. JOHN WEST (Senior Fellow, Discovery Institute): And so he gets up on the soapbox and actually sometimes, in very angry terms, denounces intelligent design and almost implies that it's unconstitutional even to question Darwin's theory because it's so well-established. And he apparently thinks that he is the guy who's going to decide this for everyone.
HAGERTY: Indeed, Judge Jones anticipated such criticism. He wrote, quote, "Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge." Rather, he said, the case came to him because of, quote, "the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board aided by a national public interest law firm." Jones continued, `The breathtaking inanity of the board's decision is evident when considered against the facts presented in the trial,' which he described as an `utter waste of money.'
Last month Dover residents voted out the school board, and the new one is unlikely to appeal the ruling; therefore, the decision applies only to the middle district of Pennsylvania. But the ruling is so detailed that it will likely deter other communities from embracing intelligent design as science. Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.
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