Irony of the Month

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From the Thomas More Law Center, which is defending Dover, PA’s inclusion of intelligent design in biology class:

According to Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel for the Law Center, “It’s a common tactic for the ACLU to pile-on plaintiffs to give the impression that more people support their position than actually do. In this case, a recent poll of Dover residents shows that a majority support the school district.”

Christian Wire Service: Court Asked to Dismiss Several Plaintiffs From Evolution Lawsuit

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As a teacher for 33 years, it has been clear to me that it doesn’t matter a bit what is written in state curricula or local curricula or what school boards decide or what legal issues are debated in the courts. The bottom line is, and always has been, the prerogative of the classroom teacher. Because it’s in the curriculum, it doesn’t mean that it’s in the classroom. Teachers have any number of ways of getting around these problems and in the end, it is what they decide to do that matters. In New York State, evolution in the basic biology course has always been an optional topic, which was placed at the end of the school year. What teacher, preparing kids for a Regents exam, could ever find a moment in the last two weeks of June to discuss an optional topic? Very few, that’s for sure! It’s hard enough to just keep them in their seats in late May and early June!

From today’s New York Times:

Evolution Takes a Back Seat in U.S. Classes By CORNELIA DEAN

Published: February 1, 2005

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/01/s[…]p;oref=login

Dr. John Frandsen, a retired zoologist, was at a dinner for teachers in Birmingham, Ala., recently when he met a young woman who had just begun work as a biology teacher in a small school district in the state. Their conversation turned to evolution.

“She confided that she simply ignored evolution because she knew she’d get in trouble with the principal if word got about that she was teaching it,” he recalled. “She told me other teachers were doing the same thing.”

Though the teaching of evolution makes the news when officials propose, as they did in Georgia, that evolution disclaimers be affixed to science textbooks, or that creationism be taught along with evolution in biology classes, stories like the one Dr. Frandsen tells are more common.

In districts around the country, even when evolution is in the curriculum it may not be in the classroom, according to researchers who follow the issue.

Teaching guides and textbooks may meet the approval of biologists, but superintendents or principals discourage teachers from discussing it. Or teachers themselves avoid the topic, fearing protests from fundamentalists in their communities.

“The most common remark I’ve heard from teachers was that the chapter on evolution was assigned as reading but that virtually no discussion in class was taken,” said Dr. John R. Christy, a climatologist at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, an evangelical Christian and a member of Alabama’s curriculum review board who advocates the teaching of evolution. Teachers are afraid to raise the issue, he said in an e-mail message, and they are afraid to discuss the issue in public.

The Dover school district also asked the judge to dismiss the ACLU’s state law claim that the policy amounts to a “coerced religious practice.”

Its that item that I think is key in that article. Basically, The More Center is asking to dismiss out of hand (without an real debate on the matter) what is, to the ACLU, a KEY complaint in the suit. The two key words are “religious” and “coerced”.

The problem is that if the students or parents are unaware that ID (or the existence of any alternative theory to evolution implied by the school board statement) is a religious matter, not a scientific one, they can’t be informed enough to remove their child from school during that particular topic. Thus, it becomes coerced on all who are not aware that its a religious viewpoint.

That, of course, also depends on the final decisions as to whether or not the courts recognize (as we all have) that ID is a religious viewpoint, not a scientific or secular one. So this lesser claim that it was coerced can’t be decided upon until the more critical claim, that it is religious, is settled. As such, it remains a valid claim and shouldn’t be thrown out.

(note: i’m not a lawyer)

Doubly ironic is that multiple parties (parents of students) recently moved to intervene as defendants in the Dover case, ostensibly because their interests weren’t adequately represented by the school board and its lawyers (Thomas More Ctr). This motion, if accepted (I’ve no idea what its chances are), will have the effect of doubling the work for the ACLU, as an entirely new legal front will have opened (which includes its own set of interrogatories, depositions, motions, etc.). So while the Thomas More Center whines about plaintiff piling, its own side is piling on defendants (technically, it isn’t their side, but as both proposed sets of defendants desire the same outcome, it’s safe to call them teammates).

You mean that the Thomas More lawfirm is dissing the “300 scientists doubt Darwinism” argument by the DI… Tell me it ain’t so… :-)

Hey Reed, it’s only Feb. 1, you really think this irony won’t be topped in the next 28 days?

The idea that those plaintiffs signed on, not because they opposed the policy, but in order to “give the impression” that more people support the lawsuit, is, however, definitely a likely Irony of the Week.

Here is the reply of one of the plaintiffs that the Thomas More Law Center is trying to cut:

Ask Barrie Callahan if she thinks her daughter is affected by the Dover Area School District’s controversy over intelligent design, and she’ll tell you there’s no question. “If they’re trying to introduce their religion onto other people, where else could this go?” Callahan said.

[…]

But even though her daughter’s already taken the biology class, Barrie Callahan doesn’t think that means she’s not affected — especially now that she’s applying to colleges.

“When you’re applying to really competitive schools, and these schools think Dover’s trying to try to change the definition of science … that can impact her from that standpoint.”

Given how Pennsylvania science and philosophy departments have criticized the Dover Area School Board, this seems like a pretty reasonable concern to me…

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Reed A. Cartwright published on February 1, 2005 9:14 AM.

Beckwith’s “burden”: the First Amendment itself was the previous entry in this blog.

New York Times: Teachers pressured to avoid evolution is the next entry in this blog.

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