The federal trial, Kitzmiller et al. vs. Dover Area School District, that pits evolution against “intelligent design” (the idea that certain features of living and non-living things were designed by an “intelligent cause” as opposed to being formed through natural causes) is expected to conclude today (November 4). Final arguments of this landmark case will follow the final testimony of Dr. Scott Minnich, associate professor of microbiology at the University of Idaho and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, an intelligent design think tank.

As previously reported in “Defending “Design” in Dover (Pennsylvania, USA),” there are two things at the heart of this non-juried trial of six weeks: “Did the school board have religious intentions in adopting a policy that mentions intelligent design, and does intelligent design have ‘religious underpinnings’?”

As summarized by a Salon.com article (October 20) posted on the Thomas More Law Center’s website (the nonprofit law center representing the Dover School Board pro bono), U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III (a George W. Bush appointee) will have to decide whether telling Dover’s ninth-graders about ID is exposing them to an “underdog science,” or is promoting a particular religion after hearing testimony by scientists, philosophers, theologians, historians of science, plaintiffs and school board members. It is unclear when the judge will issue a decision.

Richard Thompson, founder, president and chief council of the Thomas More Law Center, said in the same Salon.com article that “schools that want to include the ID debate in their curriculum deserve the right to do so.”

He went on to say, “Denying them the right is a form of both scientific and religious discrimination. ID is seeking a place in the classroom because of its merits. But it’s being kept out because it is harmonious with the Christian faith.”

Commenting on the impact of today’s culture on education, Thompson said, “There are two Americas today, one that’s still very religiously based, and another that has no foundation, where everything is relative, where everything goes. And the moral relativism that dominates the second America is an ideology enabled by Darwinism.”

Much speculation on the judge’s ruling has already begun even before final arguments have started. While it is expected that Judge Jones will likely use the “Lemon Test”1 which includes a three-pronged test, he is not expected to use the third prong of the test which addresses whether an action creates excessive “entanglement” between church and state, according to an Allentown Morning Call article (October 31).

As reported in the Morning Call article, Judge Jones will most likely base his decision on the other two prongs that measure the school board’s motivation for introducing intelligent design and whether it promoted or prohibited religion by doing so.

As G. Randall Lee, a constitutional law professor at Widener University, Harrisburg campus, commented in the same Morning Call article, “The cleanest way to get rid of the case would be if it turned out there were no secular purpose.” He went on to say, “If you don’t have a secular purpose, then there are a lot of really hard questions that you don’t have to answer.”

No matter what the outcome of this court battle, the losing side is likely to appeal and the case may eventually find itself at the Supreme Court, which could lead to a ruling that could set a national precedent for all public school boards to follow.

This battle in Dover is not limited to the courtroom though, according to an Associated Press report published by the Washington Post (November 8). It’s also being waged at the polls, where voters will decide on November 8 whether to keep eight of the nine Dover Area School Board members (all Republicans) or replace them with Democrats whose platform reportedly calls for removing ID from the curriculum.

Check back on our website for further updates on the outcome of this very significant federal court case.

Additional information about the case

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Footnotes

  1. A three-part test, called the "Lemon test," is frequently used to determine whether a government action violates the Establishment Clause. Under this test, an action must (1) have a bona fide secular purpose; (2) not advance or inhibit religion; and (3) not excessively entangle the government with religion. If the challenged action fails any of the three parts of the Lemon test, it is deemed to have violated the Establishment Clause. (The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.) Back