Federal Judge Rules on Landmark Intelligent Design Case

Teaching ID as alternative to evolution deemed unconstitutional.

by Pam Sheppard on December 20, 2005

The highly anticipated ruling on the Intelligent Design US court battle Dover Area school District was handed down today by Judge John E. Jones.

The history of the trial in Dover

  1. Dover ID trial ends today (November 4, 2005)
  2. Defending “design” in Dover (September 26, 2005)
  3. Will intelligence prevail in Dover? (December 23, 2004)
  4. Curriculum decision in Dover may be a first (October 21, 2004)

The highly anticipated ruling on the Intelligent Design US court battle (Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area school District) was handed down today (December 20) by Judge John E. Jones III after hearing six weeks of testimony in a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania courtroom. In his 139-page ruling, Judge Jones ruled that “it is unconstitutional [because, he wrote elsewhere, it violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution] to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.”

The judge’s ruling goes on to say that in order “to preserve the separation of church and state mandated by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment … , 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.”

One of the questions presented before this federal court (for the first time) asked whether ID is science. Judge Jones, in making the determination, wrote, “We have concluded that it [ID] is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.”

Jones went on to write that the “citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID policy.” He added that “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.”

While speculation on the judge’s ruling began even before the final arguments had taken place last month, the ruling is no surprise. As AiG predicted in a previous article, this effort to require teachers to teach ID in Dover was almost sure to fail. While AiG supports efforts to promote academic freedom and to question evolution in schools, we believe it is counterproductive to mandate that science teachers (most of whom are evolutionists) teach alternative ideas.

So, does that mean that it’s over in Dover?

Continued analysis of this important federal case will likely continue for some time. Now, the question is, what’s next for Intelligent Design advocates? As Andrew Cohen, legal analyst for CBS-TV News, predicted in a CBS News article (December 20), “I expect an appeal here no matter which side prevails, which means I expect this legal fight to continue for at least a year or so.”

However, because a new school board that is largely against ID was recently voted into office, an appeal may not be forthcoming by the school district.

Jones addressed anticipated critics of his ruling in his conclusion, which stated that, “Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge.” He went on to say, “Rather, this case came to us a result of the activism of an ill-formed 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.”

Background on the Dover case

During the non-juried trial (frequently compared to the 1925 Scopes trial in Tennessee), the Dover Area School Board defended its current policy, which requires ninth-grade students to hear a statement about Intelligent Design at the beginning of their biology lessons on evolution. The statement told students that evolution is a theory, not a fact, and informed them that Intelligent Design (ID) is an alternative explanation of the origin of life. Students were also referred to a book, Of Pandas and People, if they wanted to learn more about ID.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, along with eight families of students at a Dover high school, claimed that the Dover policy violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by promoting a religious doctrine.


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