Ours is a pluralistic society, with wise constitutional protections against government-sponsored establishment of religion -- and for freedom of individual expression of belief.
It is, therefore, an egregiously evil breach of mutual repect, civility and the law for any one religious group (majority or miniority) to try to force its own religious views (mainstream or extreme) on the rest of society by trying to take control of government institutions or government-sponsored activities, such as public schools, which serve all Americans of all religious and non-religious beliefs. Such behavior is just plain selfish.
On December 20 the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania issued a ruling against the Dover [PA] Area School District policy of teaching so-called Intelligent Design in public school science classes and trying to discredit the scientific validity of evolution theory -- for religious reasons.
That ruling is a benchmark in our understanding and practice of the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.
The court's Memorandum Opinion establishes legal precedent only in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. But it offers extensive fact finding and legal analysis (far beyond that quoted here) which will significantly inform any litigation elsewhere regarding any attempts to teach so-called Intelligent Design in public science classes.
This post provides two relatively short quotes from the court's full 139-page Memorandum Opinion, which fully and fairly characterize the ruling:
- The court's summary conclusions as to fact and law.
- The court's order.
Here is the court's conclusion (QUOTE):
The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.
Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.
To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.
The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.
With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.
Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.
To preserve the separation of church and state mandated by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Art. I, § 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, we will enter an order permanently enjoining Defendants from maintaining the ID Policy in any school within the Dover Area School District, from requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution, and from requiring teachers to refer to a religious, alternative theory known as ID. We will also issue a declaratory judgment that Plaintiffs’ rights under the Constitutions of the United States and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have been violated by Defendants’ actions.
Defendants’ actions in violation of Plaintiffs’ civil rights as guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 subject Defendants to liability with respect to injunctive and declaratory relief, but also for nominal damages and the reasonable value of Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ services and costs incurred in vindicating Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.
Here is the court's order (QUOTE):
NOW, THEREFORE, IT IS ORDERED THAT:
1. A declaratory judgment is hereby issued in favor of Plaintiffs pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201, 2202, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 such that
Defendants’ ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause of the First
Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and Art. I, § 3 of
the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
2. Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 65, Defendants are permanently enjoined
from maintaining the ID Policy in any school within the Dover Area
3. Because Plaintiffs seek nominal damages, Plaintiffs shall file with the
Court and serve on Defendants, their claim for damages and a verified
statement of any fees and/or costs to which they claim entitlement.
Defendants shall have the right to object to any such fees and costs to
the extent provided in the applicable statutes and court rules.
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