Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District

Last modified 2011.09.15

  • Status Closed
  • Type Counsel
  • Court U.S. District Court
  • Issues Nontheist, Atheist, Humanist, Public Schools, Racial Equality, Religious Minorities, Teaching Religion in Public Schools

The Dover Area School District required its science teachers to read students a statement in biology class telling them that biological evolution is a “theory” with “gaps” “for which there is no evidence,” and encouraging the students to learn a doctrine called “intelligent design” as an alternative to the scientific theory of evolution.

Intelligent design is the non-scientific assertion that evolution is wrong and that life on Earth “owes its origin to a master intellect”—an intelligent, supernatural actor. In other words, intelligent design is creationism that has been dressed up in pseudo-science.

In December 2004, on behalf of a group of parents in the Dover School District, AU and its allies filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the District’s policy. In the early part of 2005, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss on standing grounds and a group of parents moved to intervene in the case on the side of the defendants. On March 10, 2005, the court rejected both motions.

In July 2005, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. We filed our opposition to that motion in August 2005, and the motion was ultimately denied. Trial commenced on September 26, 2005, and lasted six weeks, concluding in early November. The parties then submitted proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law.

On December 20, 2005, the judge issued a 139-page decision in the plaintiffs’ favor. The Court ruled that intelligent design is not science but an inherently religious view, and that the District’s actions were unconstitutional.

The controversy resulted in a significant shift in the school board’s membership following a November 2005 election; as a result, the decision was not appealed.

The district court approved $2 million in attorney’s fees and costs, but AU and co-counsel agreed to accept only $1 million in fees because the new board members supported our position, and we wanted to ameliorate the financial burden on their ability to educate Dover’s children. Of this amount, roughly $267,000 went to cover costs, and the remaining amount was split between AU and the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

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