HARRISBURG, PA-The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and attorneys with Pepper Hamilton LLP filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of 11 parents who say that presenting "intelligent design" in public school science classrooms violates their religious liberty by promoting particular religious beliefs to their children under the guise of science education.
"Teaching students about religion's role in world history and culture is proper, but disguising a particular religious belief as science is not," said ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director Witold Walczak. "Intelligent design is a Trojan Horse for bringing religious creationism back into public school science classes."
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United Executive Director, added, "Public schools are not Sunday schools, and we must resist any efforts to make them so. There is an evolving attack under way on sound science education, and the school board's action in Dover is part of that misguided crusade. 'Intelligent design' has about as much to do with science as reality television has to do with reality."
Today's lawsuit challenges a controversial decision made in October by the Dover Area School Board to require biology teachers to present "intelligent design" as an alternative to the scientific theory of evolution. "Intelligent design" is an assertion that an intelligent, supernatural entity has intervened in the history of life. The lawsuit argues that such an assertion is inherently a religious argument that falls outside the realm of science. At the time of the October vote, district science teachers opposed the policy and three school board members have since quit in protest of the decision.
"The members of this school board have made their own religious beliefs part of the high school's science curriculum," said Eric Rothschild, a partner at Pepper Hamilton, a law firm headquartered in Philadelphia. "This policy is not only unconstitutional, it is bad science."
The school district policy mandates that Dover public schools treat "intelligent design" as a bona fide scientific theory competing with the scientific theory of evolution in order to develop a balanced science curriculum. Teachers are also required to read a statement to students in ninth grade biology classes that includes the following language:
Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.
Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People is available for students to see if they would like to explore this view in an effort to gain an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves. As is true with any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind.
The lawsuit argues that teaching students about "intelligent design" in public school science classes entangles government with religion and violates the separation of church and state. Of Pandas and People, the alternative book available for students, was authored by advocates of so-called creation science and published by a Christian think-tank that aims to preach "the Christian Gospel and understanding of the Bible."
"As a parent and a person of faith, I want to share my religious beliefs with my own children," said Dover resident Bryan Rehm, one of the parents involved in the lawsuit and a high school physics teacher. "But as a teacher, it would be a great disservice and fallacy to teach students that a perfectly valid faith constitutes scientific knowledge."
The lawsuit also states that teaching students that there are "gaps" in the scientific theory of evolution while not presenting any such gaps with "intelligent design" would lead students to believe that the theory of evolution is false and that the truth lies in the religious beliefs advocated through "intelligent design."
"I believe it is wrong to introduce a non-scientific 'explanation' of the origins of life into the science curriculum," said Dover resident Tammy Kitzmiller, another parent represented in the lawsuit. "This policy was not endorsed by the Dover High School science department. I think this policy was approved for religious reasons, not to improve science education for my child."
Ever since the famous 1925 Scopes "monkey trial," in which the ACLU defended a Tennessee teacher convicted of teaching evolution, opponents of the scientific theory of evolution have attempted to forbid, limit, or otherwise undermine the teaching of biological evolution in public schools. Challenges have included laws or policies to prohibit the teaching of evolution, requiring teachers to make statements or disclaimers questioning the validity of the scientific theory of evolution, and requiring teachers to present anti-evolutionary views, including religious views not based on scientific evidence.
In 1987, the Supreme Court ruled in Edwards v. Aguillard, that the belief that a supernatural creator was responsible for the creation of human kind is a religious viewpoint and cannot be taught in public schools along with the scientific theory of evolution.
Today's lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Representing the parents are Eric Rothschild, Stephen G. Harvey, Joseph M. Farber, Benjamin M. Mather and Thomas B. Schmidt of law firm Pepper Hamilton; Witold J. Walczak and Paula K. Knudsen of the ACLU of Pennsylvania; and Ayesha Khan, Richard Katskee and Alex J. Luchenitser of Americans United.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in the safeguarding religious freedom.