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Intelligent Design judge reflects on his landmark decision

July 15, 2011|By ALLAN POWELL

U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III handed down a 139-page decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District that declared that teaching Intelligent Design in public school science classes was unconstitutional. Since that 2004 decision was made, there have been no federal court cases introduced on that issue. This only means that there have been changes in the strategy of those who are determined to combat the teaching of evolution.

Because of the importance of the decision, Judge Jones accepted an invitation to speak to members of Americans United for Separation of Church and State about his reflections on such a controversial case. Judge Jones was mindful of the charges of “Judicial Activism” and wanted to show that his decision was in harmony with the First Amendment, which provides for separation of church and state.

Judge Jones stated that he had several goals in mind when he wrote his decision. First, “…I wanted to be as comprehensive as possible and I wanted to say what I saw during this great controversy as it related to what (Intelligent Design) is and what it isn’t. This might be interpreted to mean that he wanted to produce a clear and comprehensible record as a precedent which could be used as an educational tool in any future cases involving attempts to introduce religion into the teaching of science in public schools.

In addition, Judge Jones wanted to demonstrate a most important principle in dispensing justice: an independent judiciary. He points out that, “My background is Republican and that created a set of expectations of me when I had this case arrive on my docket. I guess those expectations are that federal judges throw one for the home team when you get appointed. And that’s not true, and that’s not how the federal judiciary operates.”

This was no idle, rhetorical remark. Phyllis Schlafly, a prominent leader in the ranks of the religious right, had harsh words to say about Judge Jones in an e-mail to her followers. “…This federal judge, who owes his position entirely to those voters and the president who appointed him, stuck the knife in the backs of those who brought him to the dance in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.” This is a bald expectation to corrupt the judicial process.

Realistically, the Kitzmiller decision should be seen as only a momentary roadblock in the battle to protect the integrity of the teaching of science in our public schools. Two authors, in a recently published book, “Evolution, Creationism and the Battle to Control America’s Classrooms,” give an accurate assessment of the struggle to keep religion out of science classes in public schools. “Despite the strong efforts made by the scientific community post-Kitzmiller, the struggle to defend public schools is a constant in America’s political landscape.”

One has but to consider the varying strategies starting with the Scopes monkey trial in 1925 to realize how determined the anti-evolution forces are to obliterate evolutionary science. The Scopes trial was an attempt to stop the teaching of evolution. When that failed, there was a shift to force the teaching of creationism into science classes. When that was ruled to be unconstitutional, there was a sleight of hand move to introduce Intelligent Design as a form of science. Judge Jones saw this last move properly as creationism wearing a tuxedo.

There will now be an acceleration of an old idea: getting the approval for supplementary books and supplemental educational material which includes creationism or Intelligent Design to be used alongside required science textbooks. It remains to be seen how far this will go.

Judge Jones has every right to be pleased with his decision. The attempt to convert creationism into a more sophisticated product hiding behind the facade of science was on the mark. It is reported that science teachers still do not feel secure to teach the subject of evolution for fear of hassles. The lesson is clear: This decision shows the importance of an independent judiciary.

Allan Powell is a professor emeritus of philosophy at Hagerstown Community College.

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