Fresh from the victory over the teaching of intelligent design in Dover, Pa., schools, attorneys in the high-profile case plan to make Lawrence one of their first speaking stops.
"What we have to share about our experience in the Dover case is informative to anyone involved in the debate," said Eric Rothschild, one of two attorneys who represented plaintiffs in the federal case brought against the Dover school board after it ordered intelligent design be taught in public school classrooms.
Rothschild and Stephen G. Harvey, the other plaintiff attorney, both of the firm Pepper Hamilton LLP, are slated to visit Lawrence on Jan. 28 for "Intelligent Design, Kansas Science Education, and the Law," a forum focusing on the educational and legal ramifications of the Dover decision and what significance the ruling may hold for Kansans.
'On the front line'
"I think the truth is coming out," said Jack Krebs, president of Kansas Citizens for Science and an organizer who will speak at the event. "We are on the front line now and will be for the next several months over this issue."
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Krebs said he expects national attention on the forum, which will be the lawyers' first speaking engagement outside the Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., areas. A panel discussion will include the speakers and Steve Case, assistant director of the Center for Science Education at Kansas University. It will be moderated by Eugenie Scott, executive director for the National Center for Science Education. There also will be a question-and-answer session.
"The presentation will be an opportunity for the nation to discuss how the Dover trial applies to Kansas and other situations across the country," Krebs said.
The forum is sponsored by Kansas Citizens for Science and the National Center for Science Education. It is set for 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Dole Institute of Politics at Kansas University.
Rothschild and Harvey represented 11 parents who battled to keep intelligent design teaching out of the area schools. The case ended Dec. 20 with Judge John E. Jones III's ruling that mention of intelligent design in science class is unconstitutional. The judge's opinion offered pointed criticism of the intelligent design movement.
In his decision, Jones concluded that the school board acted with "breathtaking inanity."
"The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources," he wrote.
Jones barred the board from requiring teachers to disparage evolution while teaching about the religious, alternative theory of intelligent design.
Krebs said the judge listened to the evidence and reached a conclusion that Kansas intelligent design opponents have been stating for years - that intelligent design is a facade for a cultural and religious agenda.
"It's going to be much, much harder for them to try to make their arguments and have them come across as sound," he said.
Rothschild said ID proponents made their best effort in the trial, bringing in top guns such as scientist Michael Behe, whom Rothschild called "completely unconvincing."
"It doesn't end the debate," Rothschild said, "but everybody in the debate ought to pay close attention to the judge's opinion."
Critics of judge's decision
The trial was closely watched by many in Kansas, where a conservative majority of State Board of Education members recently approved science standards proposed by intelligent design supporters and which enable criticism of evolution.
"I believe it's completely different," board Chairman Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, said of the Dover ruling. "To say that it's directly applicable to Kansas I think is erroneous."
Conservative state board member Kathy Martin agreed.
"They required something to be done," Martin said. "We're not requiring anything to be done. ... What we're doing in Kansas is allowing freedom of ideas, that are scientifically based, to be discussed in science class."
In the Dover ruling, Jones said the court had addressed the seminal question of whether intelligent design is science and determined that it is not.
"It has its roots in science," Martin said. "I don't think he even knows. How can a judge know science? He's not a scientist."
Martin is a farm wife and former science teacher.
John Calvert, director of the Intelligent Design Network, said Jones was misinformed and his ruling was absurd. Among the points Calvert took issue with was the conclusion that evolution does not conflict with or deny the existence of a divine creator.
"Evolution demolishes any rational basis for theistic belief," Calvert said.
Goals of forum
Organizers will invite superintendents, teachers and state and local school board members, to attend the public forum, Krebs said.
Steve Case, a panelist at the event, said the forum will be a chance for school board members to ask questions directly of the Dover plaintiffs' attorneys.
"There are enough parallels that it would be quite informative," Case said.
Lawrence school board President Leonard Ortiz said the intelligent design debate has become something of a nonissue for the local board.
"We haven't really felt threatened to change," he said. But Ortiz said he would be interested in attending the forum to learn more about the trial.
Some view the forum as prelude to an election that could change the state school board. Five of six board members who supported the standards face re-election this year.
"For people who can attend or for people who can read the coverage, it will help clarify in their minds that there is a need for change," predicted Harry McDonald, a member of Kansas Citizens for Science who is running for the state school board seat currently held by conservative John Bacon.
Calvert, of the Intelligent Design Network, said the real issue is whether the public is properly informed of the state board's decision to approve the standards critical of evolution.
"I think the decision in history will go down as one of the turning points in public education," Calvert said. "That will only be if the decision is allowed to hold."