December 20, 2002 | David F. Coppedge

Judge Rules ID Unconstitutional

Judge John E. Jones III gave his ruling on the Dover school board case in favor of the plaintiffs, as expected.  His wording against the board was strident, even accusing them of lying about their religious motives for including intelligent design (ID) as an alternative to evolution.  He spoke of the “breathtaking inanity” of the school board’s policy, and claimed the citizens of the Dover area were “poorly served” by the members of the board who voted for the ID policy that required a statement be read by school administrators in biology classes disclaiming evolution as a fact and mentioning an alternative text that would be available for interested students.  “We conclude that the religious nature of ID would be readily apparent to an objective observer, adult or child,” the judge said.  MSNBC News reported:

Jones blasted the disclaimer, saying it “singles out the theory of evolution for special treatment, misrepresents its status in the scientific community, causes students to doubt its validity without scientific justification, presents students with a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory, directs them to consult a creationist text as though it were a science resource and instructs students to forgo scientific inquiry in the public school classroom and instead to seek out religious instruction elsewhere.”   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)

(See also LiveScience.)  Judge Jones clearly embraced all the arguments of the plaintiffs and their witnesses, lawyers and scientists, and accepted none of those on the other side.  He tried to pre-empt claims that his ruling would be viewed as “the product of an activist judge” by claiming the only activists were the members of the Dover school board.  Bill O’Reilly on Fox News didn’t hesitate to accuse him of being an activist judge, shaking his head in disbelief at the ruling, as did his guest Judge Napolitano: now, just mentioning the idea of a designer in a public school class, without specifying anything about said designer, without requiring any testing or assignments on it, but just informing students that an alternative theory exists, is unconstitutional.  The Fox News segment mentioned that Jones is a Republican appointed by President Bush.  It also noted that Jones added insult to injury by forcing the defendants to pay all the plaintiff’s legal bills, probably astronomical, a move which will likely have a chilling effect on other school boards wanting to test the waters on intelligent design.  It is also unlikely this ruling will be appealed, since the board members who instituted the policy were voted out of office in last month’s election (11/09/2005).  That also means the ruling will remain limited to the central Pennsylvania district where the trial occurred.
    The Discovery Institute was quick to respond, calling the ruling a “futile attempt to censor science education.”  Articles by Jonathan Witt and John West soon followed; the very one-sided ruling is bound to generate a great deal of polarized commentary.  Access Research Network found it surprising that the ruling not only prohibited offering ID as an alternative to evolution, but even made it unconstitutional to criticize evolution in any way: “To preserve the separation of church and state mandated by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the ruling stated, “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.”  Leaders in the ID movement see the Dover trial as a poor test case that will probably not be the last.
    See also the Fox News report and a commentary on it by Tom Magnuson at Access Research Network.

Given the nature of the case, a ruling in favor of the board would have been surprising.  But Jones went overboard; his ruling is so full of bluster and emotion, it sounds like another bluffing shout before the dying gasp of the materialists wanting to maintain their stranglehold on education and to police student brains against entertaining doubts about the authority of Pope Charlie, a shriek by the wicked witch threatening death to her captives before the water of scientific evidence makes her melt away.  Undoubtedly Jones did not want to soil his reputation among the scientific elitists.  Now he can continue to party with his liberal friends without them calling him the judge that destroyed science.  He may have rescued his reputation for the short term, but in the long term of history, his ruling may well be cited as the epitome of activism, of judicial meddling in science and philosophy.
    Already, columnists like Dennis Byrne in the Chicago Tribune are wondering, “what is so scary about intelligent design?”  What are the DODOs (Darwin Only! Darwin Only!) so afraid of?  If their theory is rock solid, it should stand any scrutiny and critical analysis.  Anything that has to be so protected that no one can even be allowed to consider that alternatives exist is going to look silly in due time.
    Perhaps some onlookers will feel pity for the losers, wondering what all the fuss was about, and why it generated so much rancor.  The fuss will continue, and judges can be overruled.  Why?  Politics?  Religious activism?  No: because evidence cannot be suppressed indefinitely.  Remember, in Georgia already, Judge Clarence Cooper’s similar ruling against the disclaimer stickers is being viewed by the appeals court as gratuitous and contrary to the evidence (12/16/2005).  The NCSE may find Jones’s ruling to be a pyrrhic victory.  The important thing is that design in nature is ignoring the decision.  It is so ubiquitous at all scales (see next two entries for examples), it cannot be hidden forever by mountains of rhetoric.  The glacier grinds on.

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