HARRISBURG — A Pennsylvania public school district will abandon its practice of teaching “intelligent design” before lessons on evolution after a federal judge ruled that the concept is “the progeny of creationism.”

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones denounced the Dover Area School Board in a ruling Tuesday, saying its first-in-the-nation decision to introduce intelligent design into the science curriculum violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

The ruling was a major setback to the intelligent design movement, which is also waging battles in Georgia and Kansas. Intelligent design, or ID, holds that living organisms are so complex that a higher force must have created them.

“It was an effort to include intelligent design and treat it as science, disparaging evolution along the way,” said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “That will not stand.”

The dispute was one of the biggest courtroom clashes between faith and evolution since the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial. It also divided Dover and surrounding Dover Township, a rural area of nearly 20,000 residents about 20 miles south of Harrisburg.

The policy’s supporters on the board displayed “striking ignorance” about intelligent design, said Jones, a Republican and a churchgoer appointed to the federal bench in 2002. Several board members lied to conceal religious motives, he added.

Intelligent-design supporters were ousted in November’s school board elections and replaced with a new slate opposed to the policy. The new school board president, Bernadette Reinking, said the board wants to place intelligent design in an elective social studies class instead.

“There is no intent to appeal,” she said.

The policy required students to hear a statement about intelligent design before ninth-grade evolution lessons. The statement said Darwin’s theory is “not a fact” and has inexplicable “gaps.” It referred students to an intelligent-design textbook, “Of Pandas and People.”

But the judge said: “We find that the secular purposes claimed by the board amount to a pretext for the board’s real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom.”

The decision could impact school systems across the country. In Kansas, critics immediately predicted the ruling meant that recently adopted science standards could be vulnerable to a legal challenge. The standards, adopted in November, treat evolution as a flawed theory, but do not endorse intelligent design.

Earlier this month, a federal appeals court heard arguments about whether a suburban Atlanta school district had the right to put stickers on biology textbooks describing evolution as a theory, not fact. A federal judge last January ordered the stickers removed.

The ruling angered proponents of intelligent design, including the Seattle-based think tank the Discovery Institute. The group has said it disagreed with Dover’s mandate to teach the theory, but criticized West’s decision anyway.

The group has said before that the hostile treatment of leading academics in the intelligent design movement demonstrate how dangerous it is for researchers to oppose the scientific establishment.

“Judge Jones got on his soapbox to offer his own views of science, religion and evolution,” said John West, a senior fellow. “He makes it clear that he wants his place in history as the judge who issued a definitive decision about intelligent design. This is an activist judge who has delusions of grandeur.”


Associated Press Writers John Hanna in Topeka and Gene Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report.


On the Net:

Dover Area School District: http://www.dover.k12.pa.us

National Center for Science Education: http://www.ncseweb.org

Thomas More Law Center: http://www.thomasmore.org

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