Published December 14, 2004
HARRISBURG, Pa. – The state American Civil Liberties Union (search) plans to file a federal lawsuit Tuesday against a Pennsylvania school district that is requiring students to learn about alternatives to the theory of evolution (search).
The ACLU said its lawsuit will be the first to challenge whether public schools should teach "intelligent design," which holds that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by some higher power.
The Dover Area School District (search) was believed to be the first in the nation to mandate intelligent design when it voted 6-3 in October in favor of including the concept in the science curriculum.
The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have scheduled a news conference Tuesday to discuss the suit, which will be filed in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, ACLU spokesman Paul Silva said Monday.
Neither Silva nor Joe Conn, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, would comment on the specifics of the complaint.
School superintendent Richard Nilsen had no comment Monday. Administrators have declined to comment on the mandate, which applies to ninth-grade biology classes at Dover High School, in rural south-central Pennsylvania.
School board member William Buckingham spearheaded the change as the leader of the board's curriculum committee. He has said that he proposed the change as a way of balancing evolution with competing theories that raised questions about its scientific validity.
At least one other district has recently become embroiled in federal litigation over teaching evolution. A federal judge in Georgia is considering the constitutionality of a suburban Atlanta district's decision to include a warning sticker about evolution in biology textbooks.
Last month, the Dover district issued a statement saying that state academic standards require the teaching of evolution, which holds that Earth is billions of years old and that life forms developed over millions of years.
But the statement also said Charles Darwin's theory "is still being tested as new evidence is discovered," and that intelligent design "is an explanation of the origins of life that differs from Darwin's view."
Additionally, district officials said they would monitor the lessons "to make sure no one is promoting but also not inhibiting religion."
The ACLU has said intelligent design is a more secular form of creationism, a Biblical-based view that credits the origin of species to God, and may violate the constitutional amendment that bars establishment of religion.