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A federal judge in Harrisburg ruled that a public school board’s policy on intelligent design was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion in violation of the First Amendment. Citing “overwhelming” evidence that intelligent design is a religious view, “a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory,” the judge concluded the concept has “utterly no place in a science curriculum.” In his 139-page opinion in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III enjoined the Dover Area School Board from maintaining the intelligent design policy in any of its schools. The policy required that biology students hear a four-paragraph statement noting gaps in Darwin’s theory of evolution and mentioning an “alternative theory of evolution” — intelligent design. “ID,” as it’s sometimes called, asserts that living things exhibit systems of such complexity that they must have been deliberately engineered by an intelligent agent. Jones noted the defendants could be liable for the plaintiffs’ attorney fees, which have been estimated to exceed $1 million. The declaratory judgment is unlikely to be appealed by the new school board elected last month to replace those who instituted the intelligent design policy, the board president said Tuesday. The board’s lawyer is Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. Thompson told the Associated Press he would like to appeal the ruling, but that decision is up to the school board. “What this really looks like is an ad hominem attack on scientists who happen to believe in God,” Thompson said of Jones’ ruling. The pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute, a Christian think tank, issued a statement calling Jones an “activist federal judge.” It charged that he reached “well beyond the immediate legal questions before him” and “got on his soapbox to offer his own views of science, religion, and evolution.” Jones anticipated this attack, stating, this is “manifestly not an activist court.” Rather, the 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.” Jones conducted an endorsement test, which the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has applied in recent years to help gauge whether challenged governmental conduct improperly endorses religion. Jones concluded that both an objective student and an objective adult in the Dover community would view the school district’s disclaimer regarding intelligent design as a “strong official endorsement of religion.” He analyzed the four-paragraph statement read to ninth-grade biology students and found the disclaimer misrepresents the status of the theory of evolution in the scientific community, causes students to doubt evolution’s validity without scientific justification and presents them with a “religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory.” Eleven parents sued the Dover Area School Board last year, charging that it violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment and a similar clause in the Pennsylvania constitution when it voted to present “inherently religious” information to students, according to the complaint. Jones found the district’s policy failed the test articulated by the 1971 U.S. Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurtzman by consciously choosing to change the biology curriculum to advance religion. Although the board attempted to persuade Jones that each board member who voted for the curriculum change did so for the secular purpose of improving science education, he found this argument incredible. “Any asserted secular purposes by the board are a sham and are merely secondary to a religious objective,” Jones wrote. He added that the citizens of the Dover area were “poorly served” by the board members who voted for the ID policy, noting the irony 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.” Jones devoted a substantial chunk of his opinion to why ID — although an “interesting theological argument” — is not science. He reasoned that the ID concept has failed to appear in peer-reviewed scientific journals, engage in research and testing or gain acceptance in the scientific community. “Notably, every major scientific association that has taken a position on the issue of whether ID is science has concluded that ID is not, and cannot be considered as such,” Jones explained. He noted that defense experts admitted the ID movement aspires to change and broaden the ground rules of science to allow consideration of supernatural forces. They conceded that ID is not a theory as defined by the National Academy of the Sciences and that it is “at best” a fringe science, Jones observed. “It is therefore readily apparent to the court that ID fails to meet the essential ground rules that limit science to testable, natural explanations,” he concluded. Furthermore, just because scientists today can’t explain how biological systems evolved doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t be able to explain them tomorrow, Jones noted. That is, the absence of evidence to explain all details of evolution does not mean the evidence doesn’t exist. Jones discredited the argument of the lead defense expert, microbiologist Michael Behe of Lehigh University, that the irreducible complexity of some biological systems supports ID. Jones noted that irreducible complexity has been refuted in numerous peer-reviewed research papers and rejected by the scientific community at large. Jones was also unconvinced by the assertion that the design of biological systems can be inferred by the “purposeful arrangement of parts.” “This inference to design based upon the appearance of a ‘purposeful arrangement of parts’ is a completely subjective proposition, determined in the eye of each beholder and his/her viewpoint concerning the complexity of a system,” he wrote. There is no qualitative criteria for determining the degree of complexity of the number of parts that demonstrate design — something defense experts admitted. “ID is reliant upon forces acting outside of the natural world, forces that we cannot see, replicate, control or test, which have produced changes in this world,” Jones reasoned. “While we take no position on whether such forces exist, they are simply not testable by scientific means and therefore cannot qualify as part of the scientific process or as a scientific theory.” Jones reiterated that he was expressing no opinion on the veracity of ID as a “supernatural explanation.” ID’s proponents urge educators to “teach the controversy” among the alternatives to Darwin’s theory of evolution, arguing this is a valid secular purpose permitted under the law. Jones said this is an attempt to “avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class,” Jones wrote. “This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the (intelligent design movement) is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.”

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