October 2005 Church & State | People & Events

A federal court Sept. 13 refused to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the teaching of “intelligent design” in a Penn­syl­vania public school.

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled that the case presents compelling issues that are ripe for adjudication. His ruling cleared the way for the case to go to trial. Arguments began Sept. 26.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed the suit against the Dover Area School District on behalf of 11 parents with children in the local school system. The groups charge that the Dover School Board’s decision to include intelligent design in the science curriculum violates the First Amendment. (See “Science Test,” February 2005 Church & State.)

Lawyers for the school district argued that the change was minor and not a violation of the First Amendment, insisting that it serves a valid secular purpose. They asked the court to throw the lawsuit out.

Jones was not persuaded.

“[W]e hold that genuine issues of material fact exist regarding whether the challenged Policy has a secular purpose and whether the Policy’s principal or primary effect advances or inhibits religion, despite Defendants’ arguments to the contrary,” Jones wrote.

Trial in the Kitzmiller v. Dover lawsuit is expected to continue through October.

The parents who are challenging the school policy are determined to win a victory for public schools and church-state separation. They insist that intelligent design is merely the latest variant of creationism and does not belong in science classes.

Said Steve Stough, “I have joined this lawsuit because I believe that religious education is a personal matter whose instructional component is best reserved for home or at a church of one’s choice. It is my responsibility for the direction of my daughter’s religious instruction – not the public high school.”