Evolution goes on trial again.
Sheree Hied, a mother of five who believes that God created the earth and its creatures, was grateful when her school board here voted last year to require high school biology classes to hear about “alternatives” to evolution, including the theory known as intelligent design.
But 11 other parents in Dover [PA] were outraged enough to sue the school board and the district, contending that intelligent design – the idea that living organisms are so inexplicably complex, the best explanation is that a higher being designed them – is a Trojan horse for religion in the public schools.
With the new political empowerment of religious conservatives, challenges to evolution are popping up with greater frequency in schools, courts and legislatures. But the Dover case, which begins Monday in Federal District Court in Harrisburg, is the first direct challenge to a school district that has tried to mandate the teaching of intelligent design.
What happens here could influence communities across the country that are considering whether to teach intelligent design in the public schools, and the case, regardless of the verdict, could end up before the Supreme Court.
Advocates on both sides of the issue have lined up behind the case, often calling it Scopes II, in reference to the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial that was the last century’s great face-off over evolution.
On the evolutionists’ side is a legal team put together by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. These groups want to put intelligent design itself on trial and discredit it so thoroughly that no other school board would dare authorize teaching it.
Witold J. Walczak, legal director of the A.C.L.U. of Pennsylvania, said the plaintiffs would call six experts in history, theology, philosophy of science and science to show that no matter the perspective, “intelligent design is not science because it does not meet the ground rules of science, is not based on natural explanations, is not testable.”
On the intelligent design side is the Thomas More Law Center, a nonprofit Christian law firm that says its mission is “to be the sword and shield for people of faith” in cases on abortion, school prayer and the Ten Commandments. The center was founded by Thomas Monaghan, the Domino’s Pizza founder, a conservative Roman Catholic who also founded Ave Maria University and the Ave Maria School of Law; and by Richard Thompson, a former Michigan prosecutor who tried Dr. Jack Kevorkian for performing assisted suicides.
“This is an attempt by the A.C.L.U. to really intimidate this small-town school board,” said Mr. Thompson, who will defend the Dover board at the trial, “because the theory of intelligent design is starting to gain some resonance among school boards across the country.”
We have a hell of a long way to go to fixing our education system in this country if we have school boards that waste their time and money on superstition.