HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- A former physics teacher testified that his rural school board ignored faculty protests before deciding to introduce the concept of "intelligent design'' to high school students.
"I saw a district in which teachers were not respected for their professional expertise,'' Bryan Rehm, a former teacher at Dover High School, said Tuesday.
Rehm, who now teaches in another district, is a plaintiff in the nation's first trial over whether public schools can teach "intelligent design.''
Eight Dover families are trying to have the controversial concept removed from the curriculum, arguing that it violates the constitutional separation of church and state. They say it effectively promotes the Bible's view of creation.
Proponents of intelligent design argue that life on Earth was the product of an unidentified intelligent force, and that Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection cannot fully explain the origin of life or the emergence of highly complex life forms. Scientists counter that evolution is a well established theory and that intelligent design is not a theory at all, but rather a belief.
Aralene "Barrie'' Callahan, a former member of the Dover school board and another plaintiff in the case, said that at least two board members made statements during meetings that made her believe the new policy was religiously based.
At a retreat in March 2003, a board member "expressed he did not believe in evolution and if evolution was part of the biology curriculum, creationism had to be shared 50-50,'' Callahan testified.
At a school board meeting in June 2004, when she was no longer on the board, Callahan recalled another board member complaining that a biology book recommended by the administration was "laced with Darwinism.''
"They were pretty much downplaying evolution as something that was credible,'' she said.
In October 2004, the board voted 6-3 to require teachers to read a brief statement about intelligent design to students before classes on evolution. The statement says Darwin's theory is "not a fact'' and has inexplicable "gaps,'' and refers students to an intelligent-design textbook for more information.
In a separate development Tuesday, two freelance newspaper reporters who covered the school board in June 2004 both invoked their First Amendment rights and declined to provide a deposition to lawyers for the school district.
Both are expected in court Wednesday to respond to a subpoena to testify at trial, said Niles Benn, a lawyer for the newspapers. Lawyers for the school district have questioned the accuracy of articles in which the reporters wrote that board members discussed creationism during public meetings.
In other testimony Tuesday, plaintiff Tammy Kitzmiller said that in January, her younger daughter opted out of hearing the statement -- an option given all students -- putting her in an awkward position.
"My 14-year-old daughter had to make the choice between staying in the classroom and being confused ... or she had to be singled out and face the possible ridicule of her friends and classmates,'' she said.
The Dover Area School District, which serves about 3,500 students, is believed to be the nation's first school system to mandate that students be exposed to the intelligent design concept. It argues it is not endorsing any religious view and only letting students know there are differences of opinion about evolution.
The non-jury trial is expected to take five weeks.
LiveScience staff contributed to this report.