Is Kansas court battle over intelligent design next?

Attorneys in Pa. case see similar arguments from creationists

Intelligent design proponents were trounced in Pennsylvania and can be defeated here in Kansas, the lawyers who successfully battled the Dover, Pa., case said Saturday.

“These same negative arguments against evolution that have arisen out of the creationist movements – and which are outdated and discredited and just plain false – those are the same arguments that were supporting intelligent design in the Dover case,” said Eric Rothschild, an attorney for the Dover plaintiffs. “They’re absolutely present in Kansas.”

Rothschild and Steve Harvey, both of the firm Pepper Hamilton LLP, spoke Saturday to a crowd of more than 100 people at the Dole Institute of Politics at Kansas University.

They joined a lineup that included Richard Katskee of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Jack Krebs of Kansas Citizens for Science and Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education.

In the high-profile Dover case, the attorneys represented parents who battled to keep intelligent design instruction out of area schools. The case ended in December with Judge John E. Jones III’s ruling that teaching intelligent design in science class is unconstitutional.

Members of the law team that battled the Dover, Pa., intelligent design case say the same issues loom in Kansas. Speaking on Saturday at the Dole Institute of Politics were, from left, Richard Katskee, Steve Harvey and Eric Rothschild.

Jones said intelligent design could not separate itself from its grounding in religion and creationism.

“It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy,” Jones said in his decision.

Still in ‘development’

Intelligent design proponents have maintained that the ruling would have little effect on the broader debate.

Brian Sandefur, a mechanical engineer in Lawrence who has been a vocal proponent of intelligent design and who did not attend Saturday’s event, said he didn’t support the actions of those Dover board members that pressed the issue.

“We felt like it was the wrong way to go,” he said. “Intelligent design is not ready to be included in public school classrooms. It’s not a mature science. There’s no good curriculum for it. It’s still in the development stage.”

Furthermore, Sandefur said, the debate centers on science.

“The crux of intelligent design and the crux of the battle between intelligent design and evolution is not a public school science classroom or the courts,” he said. “It is the science behind it all and what explanation is the best for things we see in life and biological systems.”

Harvey, an attorney for the Dover plaintiffs, said he hoped the Dover decision marked the triumph of reason and that it might prevent other cases from following a similar path to the courts.

“Do you have to put your own hand on the stove to see that it’s hot or can you rely on someone else’s word on that?” Harvey said. “This could be the end of the line for intelligent design.”

But that’s not likely, Katskee said.

“Some people will not be ready to accept Judge Jones’ decision,” he said. “Some people will have to experience it for themselves.”

Challenges ahead

The conservative majority of the State Board of Education late last year adopted Kansas public school science standards proposed by intelligent design supporters and which enable criticism of evolution. Four of the six conservative members and moderate Janet Waugh face re-election.

Though it’s possible to legally challenge Kansas’ science standards, Katskee said, litigation will have more force in Kansas when the issue comes to a head in a school. That may not be long, he said.

“One would not have to wait, but I would not expect one to have to wait long in any event,” Katskee said.

The lawyers cautioned against turning to litigation. The Dover trial was divisive for the community and expensive, Rothschild said.

ID proponents “gave it their best shot in that trial,” he said. “They had their best witnesses there to make the case, and it was completely unpersuasive and the judge ruled that the public servants who had promoted this policy had done their constituents a disservice. : It’s a lot to go through for something that is not going to advance kids’ education at all.”

Krebs, president of Kansas Citizens for Science, drew parallels between the Dover decision and changes to Kansas’ science standards. Kansas’ standards would receive a similar fate if challenged, he said.

Saturday’s event, presented by Kansas Citizens for Science and the National Center for Science Education, drew educators, scientists, moderate state school board members and some school board challengers.

Pedro Irigonegaray, a Topeka attorney who represented mainstream science in the state board’s hearings on the standards in May, also took part. He said the state had reached its tipping point.

“Anyone from Kansas who loves the state has to be thinking: ‘How far are we going to let the pendulum swing?'” he said. “Let’s take Kansas back.”