20 December 2005

Victory In Dover!

The decision in the Kitzmiller v Dover lawsuit has just been released, and is available on the court's website. The decision is 139 pages long, and appears to be a full and complete victory for the plaintiffs. Commentary will undoubtedly be forthcoming throughout the day on Panda's Thumb, Pharyngula, here, and other places as we get time to read and fully digest the decision. As might be expected, traffic is heavy on the court's website, so expect a slow download.

As I said, it will take me some time to get through the whole decision, but I've always been an impatient reader, so I skipped right to the end. I liked the ending so much that I thought I'd share it with you:
The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents. Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the
theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.

To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions. The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic 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.

With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.

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.

To preserve the separation of church and state mandated by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Art. I, § 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, we will enter an order permanently enjoining Defendants from maintaining the ID Policy in any school within the Dover Area School District, from requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution, and from requiring teachers to refer to a religious, alternative theory known as ID. We will also issue a declaratory judgment that Plaintiffs’ rights under the Constitutions of the United States and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have been violated by Defendants’ actions. Defendants’ actions in violation of Plaintiffs’ civil rights as guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 subject Defendants to liability with respect to injunctive and declaratory relief, but also for nominal damages and the reasonable value of Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ services and costs incurred in vindicating Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

It is unclear what is going to happen next, given the outcome of the school board elections in Dover, and no matter what happens this decision is unlikely to mark the end of efforts to dilute the teaching of science in this country. But it sure is good to see that the federal courts are still willing to step in and protect our rights. Regardless of what happens next, thanks are due to a whole lot of people who put in a whole lot of time and effort on this case.

The expert witnesses for the plaintiffs, Barbara Forrest, Kenneth Miller, Kevin Padian, Robert Pennock, John Haught, Brian Alters, and Kevin Padian, worked as volunteers on this case. The lawyers from the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the law firm of Pepper Hamilton put in an enormous amount of time, effort, and energy. Genie Scott, Wesley Elsberry, Nick Matzke, Susan Spath, and the rest of the staff at the National Center for Science Education worked tirelessly behind the scenes.

Thanks are particularly due to Tammy Kitzmiller, Bryan Rehm, Christie Rehm, Deborah Feinmore, Joel Lieb, Steven Stough, Beth Eveland, Cynthia Sneath, Julie Smith, Barrie Callahan, and Frederick Callahan - the plaintiffs in the case. They, and the partially overlapping group of parents who took back the school board, have demonstrated once again that a small group of committed people really can change things for the better.

(Hat Tip: NCSE)


Anonymous said...

As a biology teacher from PA (and near Dover), I can say that this ruling makes me feel like Christmas came early! I've been dealing with this issue for as long as I've been teaching. My daughter recently finished student teaching in 6th grade in a rural PA school, and her final grade was LOWERED because she taught evolution (it was in the 6th grade science book) and didn't say it was 'just a theory' or 'it has problems', nor did she discuss 'alternative theories' like her cooperating teacher wanted her to. My principal allowed students to 'opt out' of my evolution unit, and I've had pastors show up at my classroom door with materials to hand out to students giving them the 'alternate theory' of how life came to be. Today's ruling gives me even more LEGAL ammunition to use if I ever return to the classroom. I'm on sabbatical leave, working in a big government agency in D.C., where even the DIRECTOR of SCIENCE isn't allowed to discuss 'evolution' with the media unless cleared by the (politically appointed) agency head - and then he must be sure to not come out firmly in the 'evolutionist' camp. Thank you, Judge Jones!!

George said...

Finally, we see some justice in the teaching of science in the US.

Dr Zen said...

Woohoo! We await George Bush's comment, innit!