School District Did Not Foresee 'Intelligent Design' Legal Problem

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (AP) -- The superintendent of a school district that is defending in court its decision to include "intelligent design'' in biology classes, has said that the school board sought legal advice beforehand and never discussed creationism when it adopted the policy.

Before the Dover Area School Board approved the curriculum change a year ago, its attorney researched whether the change was legal and said in a report to the board that he "found no case law either way,'' Superintendent Richard Nilsen said Thursday.


SPECIAL REPORT
Evolution & Intelligent Design

PART 1
An Ambiguous Assault on Evolution
This Trojan Horse for Creationism has become very popular. But who is being duped? And what does it all mean for morality?

PART 2
'The Death of Science'
Intelligent design is presented as a legitimate scientific theory and an alternative to Darwinism, but a close look at the arguments shows they don't pass scientific muster. So why are scientists worried?

PART 3
Belief Posing as Theory
As evolution takes a beating, scientists remind us of the difference between fact, theory and belief.

PART 4:
Anti-evolution Attacks on the Rise
Each time the effort to introduce creationism into classrooms starts up again, so does legislation aimed against evolution. Learn about the rash of recent cases, plus a look at historically pertinent court cases.

"The board did not think they were involved in illegal activity,'' Nilsen said as he testifed at a landmark trial that could determine whether intelligent design can be discussed in a public school biology class.

Intelligent design supporters argue that life on Earth was the product of an unidentified intelligent force, and that natural selection cannot fully explain the origin of life or the emergence of highly complex life forms.

Dover's policy requires students to hear a statement about intelligent design before ninth-grade biology lessons on evolution. The statement says Charles Darwin's theory is "not a fact,'' has inexplicable "gaps,'' and refers students to a textbook, "Of Pandas and People,'' for more information about the concept.

Eight families who are suing to have intelligent design removed from the curriculum argue that the policy essentially promotes the Bible's view of creation, and therefore violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

Nilsen also said board members had not discussed creationism with him before June 2004, when school board member Bill Buckingham complained that a biology book recommended by the administration was "laced with Darwinism.''

Nilsen said he didn't understand Buckingham's complaint.

"All biology books are going to be full of Darwin's theory. I didn't understand his point,'' Nilsen said.

The trial began Sept. 26 and could last through early November.

The plaintiffs are represented by a team put together by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The school district is being represented by the Thomas More Law Center, a public-interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that says its mission is to defend the religious freedom of Christians.

Trial Coverage (Most recent stories at top)

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