HARRISBURG, Pa. — A former school board member who denied advocating that creationism be taught alongside evolution in high-school biology classes changed his story Thursday, after lawyers in a federal courtroom played a TV news clip that recorded him making such a comment.
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William Buckingham explained the discrepancy by saying that he "misspoke."
Buckingham's testimony came in the fifth week of testimony in a lawsuit filed by eight families who are challenging the Dover Area School District's policy that students hear a statement about intelligent design in biology classes. Critics say intelligent design is a repackaging of the biblical view of creation and thus violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
Buckingham, who led the board's curriculum committee when it approved the policy a year ago, confirmed Thursday that he said during a June 2004 board meeting that the biology textbook is "laced with Darwinism." The clip that was shown later in the day came from an interview that he gave to a news crew from WPMT-TV in York later in the month.
"It's OK to teach Darwin," he said in the interview, "but you have to balance it with something else, such as creationism."
‘Deer in the headlights’
Asked to explain by a lawyer for the plaintiffs, Buckingham said he felt "ambushed" by the camera crew as he walked across a parking lot to his car and that he had been consciously trying to avoid mentioning creationism.
"I had it in my mind to make sure not to talk about creationism. I had it on my mind. I was like a deer in the headlights. I misspoke," he told U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, who is presiding over the non-jury trial.
Earlier in Thursday's court session, Buckingham claimed that he had been misquoted in stories from two newspapers that reported his advocating the teaching of creationism to counterbalance the material on evolution.
"It's just another instance when we would say intelligent design and they would print creationism," he said.
When Stephen Harvey, the plaintiffs' lawyer, noted the similarity of the newspaper reports to what he told the TV crew, Buckingham replied, "That doesn't mean it's accurate."
Buckingham moved to North Carolina in July and resigned from the board, citing health problems.
Statement at issue
The statement that the Dover teachers are required to read before ninth-grade biology lessons on evolution says Darwin's theory is not a fact and has inexplicable gaps. It refers students to a textbook, "Of Pandas and People," for more information.
Intelligent design supporters argue that natural selection, an element of evolutionary theory, cannot fully explain the origin of life or the emergence of highly complex life forms.
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, Mich., that says its mission is to defend the religious freedom of Christians.
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