HARRISBURG, Pa. — High school students heard about “intelligent design” for the first time Tuesday in a school district that attracted national attention by requiring students to be made aware of it as an alternative to the theory of evolution.
Administrators in the Dover Area School District read a statement to three biology classes Tuesday and were expected to read it to other classes on Wednesday, according to a statement from the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., which was speaking on the district’s behalf.
The district is believed to be the only one in the nation to require students to hear about intelligent design — a concept that holds that the universe is so complex, it had to be created by an unspecified guiding force.
‘Revolution in evolution’
“The revolution in evolution has begun,” said Richard Thompson, the law center’s president and chief counsel. “This is the first step in which students will be given an honest scientific evaluation of the theory of evolution and its problems.”
The case represents the newest chapter in a history of evolution lawsuits dating back to the Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee nearly 80 years ago. In Georgia, a suburban Atlanta school district plans to challenge a federal judge’s order to remove stickers in science textbooks that call evolution “a theory, not a fact.”
The law center is defending the Dover district against a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of eight families by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The two groups allege intelligent design is merely a secular variation of creationism, the biblical-based view that regards God as the creator of life. They maintain that the Dover district’s curriculum mandate may violate the constitutional separation of church and state.
“Students who sat in the classroom were taught material which is religious in content, not scientific, and I think it’s unfortunate that has occurred,” said Eric Rothschild, a Philadelphia attorney representing the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit.
Some students upset
Biology teacher Jennifer Miller said although she was able to make a smooth transition to her evolution lesson after the statement was read, some students were upset that administrators would not entertain any questions about intelligent design.
“They were told that if you have any questions, to take it home,” Miller said.
The district allowed students whose parents objected to the policy to be excused from hearing the statement at the beginning of class and science teachers who opposed the requirement to be exempted from reading the statement. About 15 of 170 ninth-graders asked to be excused from class, Thompson said.
A federal judge has scheduled a trial in the lawsuit for Sept. 26.
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