When Judge E. Jones III ruled last month that even mentioning intelligent design to ninth grade science students as an alternative to evolution was unconstitutional in Dover, Pennsylvania, many people still believed the door was open to teaching intelligent design in philosophy or religion classes.

In fact, many evolutionists have said that ID might be appropriately taught in non-science classes. Even the vocal anti-creationist and anti-ID leader Barry Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State or AU (the same organization that was involved in the Dover, Pennsylvania case that barred the school district from briefly mentioning intelligent design in public school science classes) and a pastor in the United Church of Christ, has backed that idea, stating that, “When it comes to matters of religion and philosophy, they can be discussed objectively in public schools, but not in biology class.”1

Last Tuesday (January 17), that door of possibility seemed to shut (at least temporarily) in a rural school district in California, when school leaders agreed to stop teaching an elective philosophy course on intelligent design after the AU, along with 11 parents, sued the El Tejon school system (located north of Los Angeles) for violating the so-called separation of church and state.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times (January 17), the school district agreed to “terminate and discontinue” the course and promised not to schedule “any other course that promotes or endorses creationism, creation science, or intelligent design.” This was done just before a federal judge was to hold a hearing on whether to halt the class midway through the winter term.

According to a New York Times article (January 11), the parents, represented by lawyers with AU, claimed that the teacher was advocating intelligent design and young-earth creationism and was not examining those ideas in a neutral way alongside evolution.

AU asserted that “by permitting the course, the El Tejon District was elevating the fundamentalist Christian viewpoint over others and misrepresenting religious concepts as scientific,” as reported by the LA Times article.

According to the New York Times piece, the parents stated in the suit that the syllabus originally listed 24 videos to be shown to students, with 23 produced or distributed by religious organizations and assume a pro-creationist, anti-evolution stance. At least one of the DVDs was produced by AiG. The NY Times also said that the special education teacher (a pastor’s wife) amended the syllabus and the course title for “Philosophy of Intelligent Design” to “Philosophy of Design” after some parents complained.

So where does the Discovery Institute (DI), the leading think-tank on ID stand on this particular course? According to a posting on the organization’s website, Casey Luskin, a DI attorney, wrote a letter to the El Tejon School District urging the district to: “either reformulate the course by removing the youngearth creationist materials or retitle the course as a course not focused on ID.”

In the letter, Luskin explained why ID is not the same as creationism. “… ID is based upon empirical data rather than religious Scripture, and also because ID is not a theory about the age of the earth.”

With a more sympathetic view was Brian Fahling with the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy. He said of the pressure applied by AU on the El Tejon District “indicates the ‘tyrannical nature’ of people like Barry Lynn, who heads Americans United” (AgapePress, January 18).

“The idea that they would go in and strong-arm an agreement from a school district, essentially, to not teach, for instance, intelligent design in the future, is beyond pale,” Fahling said. He added that it is questionable “whether or not the school district actually has the authority to agree not to provide a course that is otherwise well within constitutional bounds.”

“It was another colossal mistake by the school district to allow Americans United to portray the teaching of creationism or intelligent design in a philosophy course as being the equivalent of teaching it in a science course when, in fact, it is not.”

Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis-USA, observed: “This really illustrates what we’ve been saying for years. The secularists don’t just want mention of creation out of the science classes—they don’t want anyone to hear about this at all! It has nothing to do with science ultimately, but has everything to do with their religious basis—naturalism.”

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Footnotes

  1. Bumiller, Elisabeth (New York Times), Furor erupts over Bush’s remarks on intelligent design, San Francisco Chronicle, www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/08/03/MNGFOE1VHN1.DTL, August 3, 2005. Back