Yesterday a federal judge in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, issued his long-awaited ruling in the intelligent design (ID) case. As I feared, he ruled against the Dover school system’s inclusion of intelligent design in biology classes. While I am disappointed at the ruling, I am not disheartened, and you should not be either.
In his 139-page opinion, Judge John E. Jones concluded that “it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.” In reaching this decision, he found that intelligent design is not “science” because its ideas can’t be either verified or falsified through normal scientific methods.
Jones also ruled that intelligent design “cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.” He called the claimed secular purpose for including ID in the curriculum—improving science education—“a pretext for the Board’s real purpose”: to promote religion in the public school classroom. (The secular purpose test is decisive in these kinds of cases.) Now, I strongly disagree, but this tells us what has to be done in other cases if we are going to succeed.
Jones was particularly hard on school board members who, in his opinion, lied “time and again . . . to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.” His conclusions about the “real purpose behind the ID policy” were based on what happened outside school board meetings and not just inside them. He pointed to the history of the policy’s adoption and statements made by the policy’s supporters.
By way of anticipating the reaction to the ruling, Jones emphasized that “he wasn’t saying the intelligent design concept shouldn’t be studied and discussed . . . ” And this is the key: In Kansas and other jurisdictions, the teaching is permitted, not mandated. Always seek an open forum, so all sides can be discussed, and science compared to science.
As a lawyer, this case reminds me of the old adage that bad cases make bad law. In this case, I fear, well-intentioned school-board members overplayed their hand: Given the current state of Establishment Clause jurisprudence, there was little chance of the policy, as written, withstanding a constitutional challenge.