HARRISBURG, Pa. — A high school biology teacher testified Thursday that she and her colleagues refused to read a statement on "intelligent design" in class because they questioned the concept's scientific validity.
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In a landmark trial over the Dover Area School Board's decision to include reference to intelligent design in its biology curriculum, teacher Jennifer Miller testified she didn't see the concept as a viable scientific alternative to the theory of evolution.
"It would misrepresent the importance of the theory of evolution to our students," said Miller, one of a group of teachers who presented a memo to the district asking to be excused from reading the statement on intelligent design.
She said that mentioning intelligent design would be contradictory in science class because it wasn't a legitimate scientific theory.
Under a policy approved by the school board in October 2004, students must hear a brief statement about intelligent design before classes on evolution. The statement says Charles Darwin's theory is "not a fact," has inexplicable "gaps," and refers students to a textbook called "Of Pandas and People" for more information.
Eight families sued, saying the policy in effect promotes the Bible's view of creation, violating the constitutional separation of church and state. The trial began Sept. 26 and is expected to last up to five weeks.
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.
Miller said she and other teachers knew before the October 2004 board meeting that the school was considering using "Of Pandas and People" in class as a companion to the regular biology textbook.
Although the teachers agreed to use it as a reference book — hoping such a compromise would end a debate over how they taught evolution — they did not want intelligent design included in the biology curriculum, Miller said.
"We thought that if we compromised, maybe this will go away," she said.
In his cross-examination, Patrick Gillen, an attorney representing the school district, asked Miller to confirm that school board member Alan Bonsell had sought legal advice from the district's solicitor, who issued a written opinion that intelligent design "could be presented legally."
"I'm very confused as to what it said, even to this day," Miller said, citing "legal jargon" in the solicitor's memo.
Bertha Spahr, a chemistry teacher who heads the high school's science department, testified that she stated during the October 2004 board meeting that the teachers did not support discussing intelligent design in class.
"We never compromised on the issue of putting intelligent design into the curriculum," Spahr said.
Spahr is expected to return to the witness stand Wednesday for cross-examination by the defense.
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 defended by the Thomas More Law Center, a public-interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich., that says its mission is to defend the religious freedom of Christians.
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