Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Dover School District Loses Intelligent Design Case

Pennsylvania U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III today ruled unconstitutional a required disclaimer calling Dover, Pennsylvania high school students' attention to the theory of intelligent design. (See prior posting.) Reports on today's court decision are available from both CNN and BBC News. The contested statement was required by the Dover Area school board to be read in all 9th-grade biology classes. In its opinion, the court found that "the classroom presentation of the disclaimer, including school administrators making a special appearance in the science classrooms to deliver the statement, the complete prohibition on discussion or questioning ID, and the 'opt out' feature all convey a strong message of religious endorsement" by government.

The 139-page opinion in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District is a strong endorsement of arguments by the plaintiffs that the school board's action violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. The full opinion is available online here. [Thanks to Ed Brayton for posting it].

In finding that the Dover school board violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Sec. 3 of the Pennsylvania constitution , the court applied both the “endorsement” test and the Lemon test.

It held that an objective student would view the disclaimer read in class as a strong endorsement of religion; and that an objective adult member of the Dover community, aware of the social context in which the ID policy arose, would view school board policy and the conduct of board members as a strong endorsement of a religious view.

Applying Lemon, the court found that the language, legislative history and historical context in which ID policy arose "inevitably lead to the conclusion that Defendants consciously chose to change Dover’s biology curriculum to advance religion". The court made extensive findings that Intelligent Design "is not science". It found that ID violates the ground rules of science by invoking supernatural causation; it employs "the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science"; and ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community. The court then concluded that since ID is not science, its only real effect is the advancement of religion.

In concluding his opinion, Judge Jones wrote:
Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed 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. 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. 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.