Praise for the Kitzmiller verdict


The decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover -- the first challenge to the constitutionality of teaching "intelligent design" in the public school science classroom -- was issued on December 20, 2005, and the plaintiffs were victorious. In his detailed 139-page decision, Judge John E. Jones III concluded, "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." The Dover Area School Board was therefore ordered to refrain "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." The decision [Link broken] (PDF) was scathing, both about the scientific credibility of "intelligent design" (which Jones wrote "is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, engage in research and testing, and gain acceptance in the scientific community") and about the behavior of the defendants (whom Jones castigated for "breathtaking inanity" in adopting the objectionable policy). Following the resounding legal triumph, educational, scientific, and civil liberties groups were quick to praise the decision. And editorial writers around the country, from The New York Times and the Washington Post to the York Daily Record and the York Dispatch, offered their kudos as well.

From the educational community, the National Science Teachers Association and the National Association of Biology Teachers both hailed the decision. In a statement dated December 20, 2005, NSTA's executive director Gerry Wheeler said, "This is a great day for science education ... Judge Jones's decision will echo far beyond Pennsylvania because not only does it maintain sound science for the students of Dover, but his comprehensive and detailed opinion also provides great clarity that ID is not science and has no place in science instruction. The judge's opinion is a 'must read' for school boards and communities that are addressing this issue." NSTA's president Maki Padilla added, "We value the religious views of our students, but it is unfair to teach them about nonscientific ideas within the science classroom; it blurs the line between what is science and what is faith. As science educators, our job is to teach about scientific theories and facts, not faith or opinion." Similarly, in a statement [Link broken] dated December 20, 2005, NABT's executive director Wayne W. Carley said, "This is an important day for our nation's youth ... By keeping intelligent design out of the science classroom, Dover's students will receive a much better education. Judge Jones's decision both reinforces the establishment clause of the First Amendment and protects the academic freedom of the Dover Public Schools." He added, "Judge Jones clearly understands that evolution is strong, powerfully documented science that should not be diluted with non-scientific concepts." And NABT's president-elect Toby M. Horn succinctly explained, "Science is based on evidence; there is no evidence for intelligent design."

Representing the scientific community, Alan Leshner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science -- the world's largest general scientific society -- said in a statement dated December 20, 2005, "We are heartened by Judge Jones' decision, which recognizes that Intelligent Design was injected into Dover's 9th grade biology classes for religious reasons rather than scientific reasons. And on behalf of the entire U.S. scientific community, we are grateful for the courage of science teachers and parents in Dover, who worked so hard and took such risks to preserve the integrity of science education in our public schools." He added, "We'd like to think that all sides would now abide by the judge's decision and unify around the goal of improving science education -- this is crucial in our increasingly competitive world. But at a minimum, we hope this decision will discourage efforts to introduce Intelligent Design into science classes in other communities. We should stick to teaching science in science classes -- that's best for our students, and best for the long-term scientific and economic strength of our nation." The American Institute of Biological Sciences and the American Society for Cell Biology agreed. In a statement dated December 21, 2005, ASCB's president Zena Werb said, "Yesterday was a great day for science education. ... The ruling by Judge Jones preserves the notion that science classrooms are solely for the teaching of science." And the incoming president of AIBS, Kent Holsinger, said in a statement dated December 20, 2005, "The real winners of this case are Dover students ... Students should be able to learn about the nature of science, which can be tested based on our observations of the natural world. Intelligent design does not fit that criterion."

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union, and People for the American Way all also praised Judge Jones's decision. AU, which with the Pennsylvania ACLU and Pepper Hamilton LLP represented the plaintiffs, issued a statement [Link broken] on December 20, 2005, describing the decision as "a significant blow to Religious Right-led efforts to sneak fundamentalist dogma into public schools under the guise of science." AU's executive director, the Reverend Barry Lynn, said, "This is a tremendous victory for public schools and religious freedom ... It means that school board members have no right to impose their personal religious beliefs on students through the school curriculum," adding, "Public schools should teach science in science class, and let parents make their own decisions about religion." Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the ACLU, said in a statement issued on December 20, 2005, "We are extremely pleased that the court recognized that 'intelligent design' is not science and that it also is not constitutional ... As the court recognized, activists sought to bring 'intelligent design' into Dover as a test case, and in the process, brought division to a small community. We hope today's decision sends a strong message to proponents of creationism that it is inappropriate to attempt to advance a particular religious belief at the expense of our children's education." People For the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas concurred, saying in a statement dated December 20, 2005, "Today's ruling is a momentous affirmation of the Constitution's prohibition of government endorsement of religion ... The court recognized that 'intelligent design' is nothing more than religious creationism in disguise, and that, as such, it may not be taught as science in public schools. This decision is a resounding victory for science education, for public school students, and for the Constitution."

Praise for the Kitzmiller verdict was similarly unstinted in editorial pages across the country. The New York Times's editorial (December 22, 2005) described Judge Jones's decision as "a striking repudiation of intelligent design" and noted that it could not be taken as the product of a liberal activist judge: "He is a lifelong Republican, appointed to the bench by President Bush, and has been praised for his integrity and intellect. Indeed, as the judge pointed out, the real activists in this case were ill-informed school board members, aided by a public interest law firm that promotes Christian values, who combined to drive the board to adopt an imprudent and unconstitutional policy." Alluding to ongoing controversies in Georgia and Kansas, the editorial writer also remarked, "No one believes that this thoroughgoing repudiation of intelligent design will end the incessant warfare over evolution. But any community that is worried about the ability of its students to compete in a global economy would be wise to keep supernatural explanations out of its science classes." The Washington Post's editorial (December 22, 2005) characterized the decision as "a model for judicial consideration of the proliferating effort to use intelligent design to undermine the teaching of biology." The Los Angeles Times's editorial (December 22, 2005) concluded, "The Dover schools come out bruised but wiser, after dragging students and parents through what the judge labeled 'this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.' Recent elections threw out the school board's intelligent design crowd, and the district will not appeal. No doubt other school board members elsewhere will make the same mistakes, raising legal troubles instead of academic standards. But perhaps Jones' sweeping and sometimes acerbic ruling will dissuade a few of the smarter ones from trying."

The Kitzmiller decision is also receiving kudos from legal commentators. In The Legal Intelligencer (December 21, 2005), Hank Grezlak wrote, "What [Judge Jones] did in his opinion, systematically and ruthlessly, was expose intelligent design as creationism, minus the biblical fig leaf, and advanced by those with a clear, unscientific agenda: to get God (more specifically, a Christian one) back into the sciences." Interviewed on CNN (December 20, 2005), Jeffrey Toobin described the decision as "a major, major decision" that "will be a very important precedent that other judges will look to in deciding whether intelligent design may be tried elsewhere in the country." And in his analysis for CBS News (December 21, 2005), Andrew Cohen wrote, "According to the evidence as evaluated by Judge Jones, a bunch of manipulative board members in Dover decided that they wanted to inject into the science curriculum of their public schools a religious element that they knew or reasonably should have known to be impermissible under the First Amendment. Yet they tried anyway, going to somewhat comical lengths to try to get around what they knew or should have known was well-established and well-reasoned law. In so doing, they subjected themselves to scorn and the notion of Intelligent Design to the kind of scrutiny it clearly could not withstand." He added, "Darwin would be proud of this ruling. And come to think of it, so would Clarence Darrow."

Meanwhile, back in Dover, Pennsylvania, the local papers are in agreement. The York Dispatch's editorial (December 21, 2005) was caustic about the board's support of the objectionable policy: "Judge Jones in his 139-page ruling said the 'citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID policy.' The judge was being too kind by several degrees. In violating the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the board members -- especially those who lied on the witness stand in a pathetic attempt to defend their insistence on teaching creationism along with valid science -- threw their oaths as public servants to uphold the law out the window. In demanding that ninth-grade biology students be informed that alternatives existed to the Darwinian theory of evolution, the purely religious motives of creationism supporters was more than obvious. They encouraged students to keep an open mind, while offering intelligent design as the only alternative. That's a religious view and a clear violation of the Constitution." And the York Daily Record's editorial [Link broken] (December 21, 2005) said, "Judge Jones got it exactly right, eviscerating the pathetic case put forth by the defense," and called for the investigation of perjury charges against former board members William Buckingham and Alan Bonsell -- a call that was apparently heeded; the Harrisburg Patriot-News (December 22, 2005) reports [Link broken] that a federal prosecutor is reviewing the testimony in order to determine whether charges ought to be filed.