Reactions to Dover complaint


by Nick Matzke

On December 14, 2004, eleven parents from Dover, Pennsylvania -- represented by the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and attorneys from Pepper Hamilton LLP -- filed suit in federal court [Link is broken] to overturn the "intelligent design" policy of the Dover Area School Board. The plaintiffs in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District argue that teaching intelligent design -- which consists of discredited creationist criticisms of evolution, which are supposed to lead to the conclusion that supernatural intervention by an "intelligent designer" must have been responsible for the history of life -- is government establishment of religion when taught as science in a public school science class.

Vic Walczak, attorney for the Pennsylvania chapter of the ACLU, said that "Teaching students about religion's role in world history and culture is proper, but disguising a particular religious belief as science is not," at the press conference announcing the suit. He added, "Intelligent design is a Trojan Horse for bringing religious creationism back into public school science classes."

Reaction to the complaint was swift. A trenchant editorial [Link is broken] in the York Dispatch began by observing, "The intelligent design/creationist clique on the Dover Area School Board now have the national media attention they've been angling for -- and so much for their mandated responsibilities to the students and district residents," and went on pointedly to describe the procedure for running for school board.

Angie Yingling is a member of the Dover Area School Board who initially voted for the policy but later reversed her position and said she would resign from the Board if it did not reconsider the policy. After the suit was filed, Yingling said to the Associated Press, "Anyone with half a brain should have known we were going to be sued." Yingling later spoke to the York Daily Record about whether or not the lawyers for the school district would "agree to go to battle." Yingling said, "I can tell you, they're gonna."

Just before the complaint was filed, the Discovery Institute, the main organization that has been promoting intelligent design for the past decade, issued a press release entitled "Discovery Calls Dover Evolution Policy Misguided, Calls For its Withdrawal." According to the press release, the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture associate director John West stated, "Dover's current policy has a number of problems, not the least of which is its lack of clarity. At one point, it appears to prohibit Dover schools from teaching anything about 'the origins of life.' At another point, it appears to both mandate as well as prohibit the teaching of the scientific theory of intelligent design. The policy's incoherence raises serious problems from the standpoint of constitutional law. Thus, the policy should be withdrawn and rewritten."

However, Richard Thompson, an attorney for the Thomas More Law Center, which describes itself a "not-for-profit public interest law firm dedicated to the defense and promotion of the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life," indicated that the Center would represent the Dover Area School District and defend the District's "intelligent design" policy. Commenting on a statement quoted in the plaintiffs' complaint as documentation of religious purpose, Thompson said, "You cannot shackle the rest of the school board with that one statement," adding "there is nothing wrong with having a religious intent with legislation having a secular purpose." Commenting on the filing of the complaint, Thompson said, "The shot was fired, and it's down range now. The board stands fast, and the Thomas More Law Center is ready to represent them." He said that the Thomas More Law Center has "been ready for many years," and that his organization had been "waiting for a school board that has enough courage to do what should be done."

Thompson explained intelligent design to the San Francisco Chronicle, saying that intelligent design couldn't identify the "transcendent being that created species. But there are religious implications to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution as well. If man was an accident and not a directed thing, then you do away with God. The implication of the theory of evolution is, there is no God; it's all forces of nature." He expressed confidence in the prospects for a legal victory, but NCSE's Nicholas Matzke took a different view, saying, "Evolution is great science and this intelligent design stuff is religiously motivated pseudo-science," adding, "it seems like a pretty clear-cut case to us."


ACLU/AU Press Release: "Pennsylvania Parents File First-Ever Challenge to 'Intelligent Design' Instruction in Public Schools." [Link is broken] December 16, 2004. See also the filed complaint, [Link is broken] and a FAQ page [Link is broken] on "intelligent design." [Link is broken]

York Dispatch editorial. "Creationists need a clear message." [Link is broken] December 16, 2004.,1413,138~10027~2601907,00.html [Link is broken]

Lebo, Lauri. "Parents defend lawsuit." [Link is broken] York Daily Record. December 15, 2004. [Link is broken]

Lebo, Lauri. "She hopes for change." [Link is broken] York Daily Record. December 15, 2004. [Link is broken]

Lebo, Lauri. "Intelligent design lawsuit coming." [Link is broken] York Daily Record. December 14, 2004. [Link is broken]

Press Release: "Discovery Calls Dover Evolution Policy Misguided, Calls For its Withdrawal." December 14, 2004.

Hurdle, John. "Pennsylvania Schools Sued Over Creationism Plan." [Link is broken] Reuters. December 14, 2004. [Link is broken]

Raffaele, Martha. "ACLU to Sue Over Pa. Evolution Debate." [Link is broken] Associated Press. December 14, 2004.,1282,-4673051,00.html [Link is broken]

Badken, Anna. "Parents sue schools over 'intelligent design.'" San Francisco Chronicle. December 15, 2004.