HARRISBURG, Pa. — The superintendent of a school district that is defending its decision to include "intelligent design" in its biology curriculum testified Thursday that the school board sought legal advice beforehand and never discussed creationism when it adopted the policy.
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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.
"I have reason to believe that the board did not think they were involved in illegal activity," Nilsen said.
Nilsen testified as a witness for the defense during the fourth week of a landmark federal 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 intelligent force, and that natural selection cannot fully explain the origin of life or the development 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" and has inexplicable "gaps," and it 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 ban on the state establishment of religion.
Under questioning by Patrick Gillen, an attorney defending the school board in the lawsuit, Nilsen 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. Dick M. Carpenter II, an education professor at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, was scheduled to testify as an expert witness for the defense on Friday morning. Before taking up his current post, Carpenter served as an education policy analyst for Focus on the Family, and in that capacity was involved in issues ranging from charter schools to Christian perspectives on homosexuality.
Nilsen was expected to resume his testimony Friday afternoon.
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, Mich., that says its mission is to defend the religious freedom of Christians.
This report includes additional information from MSNBC.com.
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