10 years later: Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District

Written by Dylan Segelbaum/York Daily Record-Sunday News | Dec 20, 2015 5:52 AM

Evolution articles, stickers, and memorabilia rest on a bookshelf at the Sneath home in Springettsbury Township. Cyndi Sneath was one of 11 parents who the ACLU of Pennsylvania sued the Dover Area School District on behalf of in 2004. That came after the Dover Area School Board voted to adopt a policy mentioning intelligent design in ninth-grade biology. On Dec. 20, 2005, a federal judge ruled against the school district, and held that intelligent design was not science.(Photo: Kate Penn -- Daily Record/Sunday News)

Today marks 10 years since U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled that mentioning intelligent design in public school was unconstitutional -- and that the idea is not science.

(Dover) -- Ken Miller was on the train back to Providence, R.I., the day after giving a lecture at Yeshiva University about faith and evolution, when he got the call.

It was from Witold "Vic" Walczak, the legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University, had testified several months before on behalf of 11 parents who had sued the Dover Area School District over its mention of intelligent design -- the idea that life is so complex it must have needed an "intelligent designer" -- in ninth-grade biology class.

And now, on Dec. 20, 2005, the ruling had come down.

"First thing he said was, 'We hit a home run,'" Miller said in a recent interview. But then, Walczak changed his mind: "'No we didn't. We hit a grand slam.'"

In a 139-page decision, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled that the school district's policy was unconstitutional. And, Jones held, intelligent design was not science. Miller said he then found himself giving an impromptu talk to people on the train about the case -- which had put Dover in the national spotlight.

Today marks 10 years since the decision in the case, called Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, came out. Here's a look at what you need to know:

What happened?

In October 2004, the Dover Area School Board by a 6-3 vote adopted a policy to have intelligent design mentioned in biology class. They cited a need to make students aware of "gaps/problems" in Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

"For me, I kind of felt like--it was just incredulous, just that this kind of thing was going on," said Beth Eveland, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, in a recent interview. "Wait a minute? What are you doing here?"

Shortly after, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and other groups, sued on behalf of the 11 parents. They claimed that intelligent design was simply a repackaged version of creationism.

The lawsuit led to a six-week-long trial in federal court, which was covered internationally.

That November, an opposition slate of candidates called Dover CARES swept in the school board race. The district eventually had to pay $1 million in legal fees.

Why was the case controversial?

The trial, several plaintiffs and others who were involved said, divided the community. Some people took the case as meaning you had to choose between religion and science.

"It divided the community. No doubt, no question about that," Jeff Brown, a former member of the Dover Area School Board who resigned in protest over the vote, said recently. "Like I said, that election was a mile wide and an inch deep."

What's been the effect?

The ruling has, effectively, put a stop to efforts to introduce intelligent design into public schools. Several states have changed their academic standards, some noted, to include what they describe as "subtle" challenges to evolution.

What's going on this year to commemorate 10 years?

In November, York College and the ACLU of Pennsylvania each hosted different events marking 10 years since the decision came down. That included a concert in Harrisburg featuring Baba Brinkman, who performed "the Rap Guide to Climate Change."

Meanwhile, the Discovery Institute, a pro-intelligent design think-tank based in Seattle, on Dec. 11 started releasing a series of posts called "Ten Myths About Dover."

Contact Dylan Segelbaum at 771-2102.

Read more

Visit and type "Dover intelligent design" into the search bar to read about a plaintiff's son who was mentioned at trial and now is choosing his future path; the defendants' take on the case and the decision; whatever happened to the book "Of Pandas and People"; and more.


This article comes to us through a partnership between York Daily Record and WITF.


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