FRESNO, Calif. – Under legal pressure, a rural school district Tuesday canceled an elective philosophy course on "intelligent design."
A group of parents had sued the El Tejon school system last week, accusing it of violating the constitutional separation of church and state with "Philosophy of Design," a high school course taught by a minister's wife that advanced the notion that life is so complex it must have been created by some kind of higher intelligence.
In a settlement, the district agreed to halt the course at Frazier Mountain High next week and said it would never again offer a "course that promotes or endorses creationism, creation science or intelligent design."
"This sends a strong signal to school districts across the country that they cannot promote creationism or intelligent design as an alternative to evolution, whether they do so in a science class or a humanities class," said Ayesha N. Khan, legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represented the parents.
In a landmark lawsuit, Americans United successfully blocked the Dover, Pa., school system last month from teaching intelligent design alongside evolution in high school biology classes. U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled that intelligent design is religion masquerading as science.
However, some activists contended that Jones' ruling opened the door to teaching intelligent design in philosophy or religion classes.
The settlement in the El Tejon school district was announced just before a federal judge was scheduled to hold a hearing on whether to halt the class midway through the monthlong winter term.
All five of the cash-strapped district's trustees voted to settle the potentially expensive case, said Pete Carton, the district's attorney. The class started Jan. 3 with 15 students.
El Tejon Superintendent John Wight said the subject was proper for a philosophy class. But Americans United argued the course relied almost exclusively on videos that presented religious theories as scientific ones.
The high school in the Tehachapi Mountains about 75 miles north of Los Angeles draws 500 students from a dozen small communities.
Sharon Lemburg, a social studies teacher and soccer coach who taught "Philosophy of Design," defended the course in a letter to the weekly Mountain Enterprise. "I believe this is the class that the Lord wanted me to teach," she wrote.
Similar battles over intelligent design are being fought in Georgia and Kansas.