Harrisburg, Pa. A rural school board showed a clear bias against teaching evolution before it pushed through a plan to introduce "intelligent design" to students, a former board member testified Tuesday in a trial over whether the concept has a place in public schools.
Aralene "Barrie" Callahan, who was once on the Dover school board and is now among the challengers, said she believed the policy to teach intelligent design was religion-based.
Eight families are trying to remove the theory from the Dover Area School District curriculum, arguing that it violates the constitutional separation of church and state. They say "intelligent design" effectively promotes the Bible's view of creation.
The school district argues it is letting students know there are differences of opinion about evolution, not endorsing any religious view.
Callahan testified that board member Alan Bonsell - during a retreat in 2003 - "expressed he did not believe in evolution and if evolution was part of the biology curriculum, creationism had to be shared 50-50."
At a school board meeting in June 2004, when she was no longer on the board, Callahan recalled board member Bill Buckingham complaining that a biology book recommended by the administration was "laced with Darwinism."
"They were pretty much downplaying evolution as something that was credible," she said.
In the lawsuit challenging the intelligent design policy, Buckingham was further quoted as saying: "This country was founded on Christianity and our students should be taught as such."
Proponents of intelligent design say life is the product of an unidentified intelligent force, and that Darwin's theory of natural selection over time cannot fully explain the origin of life or the emergence of complex life forms.
In October 2004, the board voted 6-3 to require teachers to read a brief statement about intelligent design to students before classes on evolution. The statement says Darwin's theory is "not a fact" and has inexplicable "gaps," and refers students to an intelligent-design textbook for more information.
In a separate development Tuesday, two freelance newspaper reporters who covered the school board in June 2004 both invoked their First Amendment rights and declined to provide a deposition to lawyers for the school district.
Both are expected in court today to respond to a subpoena to testify at trial, said Niles Benn, a lawyer for the reporters' papers.
Lawyers for the school district have questioned the accuracy of articles in which the reporters wrote that board members discussed creationism during public meetings. Patrick Gillen, an attorney with the Thomas More Law Center, said the defense would ask U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III today to issue a contempt citation.
In other testimony Tuesday, plaintiff Tammy Kitzmiller said that in January, her younger daughter chose not to hear the intelligent-design statement - an option given all students - putting her in an awkward position.
"My 14-year-old daughter had to make the choice between staying in the classroom and being confused ... or she had to be singled out and face the possible ridicule of her friends and classmates," she said.
The Dover district, which serves about 3,500 students, is believed to be the nation's first school system to mandate that students be exposed to the intelligent design concept.