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The Truth About Discovery Institute’s Role in the Dover Intelligent Design and Evolution Trial

Recent news stories have led to confusion about Discovery Institute’s role in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover School District, which challenges a Pennsylvania school district policy requiring students to be notified about the theory of intelligent design. The lead attorney defending the Dover district, Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center, has made several statements inaccurately characterizing both the position and the actions of Discovery Institute regarding the Dover case. We are issuing the following statement in order to correct the record:

1. Discovery Institute’s science education policy has been consistent and clear. We strongly believe that teaching about intelligent design is constitutionally permissible, but we think mandatory inclusion of intelligent design in public school curricula is ill-advised. Instead, we recommend that schools require only that the scientific evidence for and against neo-Darwinism be taught, while not infringing on the academic freedom of teachers to present appropriate information about intelligent design if they choose.

Although we believe teaching about intelligent design is constitutionally permissible, we think mandating intelligent design politicizes what should be a scientific debate and harms the efforts of scientists who support design to gain a fair hearing in the scientific community.
Our science education policy is a matter of public record. We have explained it repeatedly to reporters and to school board members, and it is clearly stated on our website.

2. Discovery Institute repeatedly advised the Dover School Board and Thomas More that the board’s intelligent design policy enacted in the fall of 2004 was problematic and should be replaced. The Dover Board and Thomas More chose to reject Discovery Institute’s advice.

Discovery Institute first learned about the controversy in Dover through a news media account in June 2004. At that time, a Discovery Institute representative contacted a Dover school board member to explain why we favored teaching evidence for and against neo-Darwinism, but opposed efforts to require the inclusion of intelligent design. After the school board adopted its policy in the fall of 2004, we continued to communicate with board members and district officials about our concerns and urge that the policy be replaced. After Thomas More Law Center entered the fray, we made our concerns known to its attorneys, including Richard Thompson. Our objections to the Dover policy were clearly communicated to board members and Thomas More well before any lawsuit was filed.

Mr. Thompson recently cited language from a legal guidebook written by Discovery Institute Fellows in 1999 suggesting that it somehow sanctioned Dover’s policy on intelligent design. But Mr. Thompson cited the language of the guidebook out of context. The guidebook focused on supporting teachers who wanted to teach about intelligent design, not on the defensibility of requiring teachers to teach about intelligent design. This is a crucial distinction. Indeed, the guidebook clearly states that “to summarize, the safest course is one in which a school board permits [not “requires”] a biology teacher to teach the full range of scientific theories about origins.” (emphasis added) Discovery Institute’s central concern of protecting the academic freedom of teachers was further emphasized in a Utah Law Review article in 2000, which was written by the same authors as the legal guidebook. That article discussed a hypothetical “John Spokes” who wanted to teach about intelligent design, and addressed whether the school board would be legally required to prevent him from doing so. Nowhere did it suggest that a school board would be on legally safe ground to require unwilling teachers to address intelligent design. In addition, both the legal guidebook and the Utah Law Review article stressed the need for school district policies to be based on science, not religion, and to have a secular purpose.

When Mr. Thompson cited Discovery Institute’s legal materials in support of the Dover board in his communication with Discovery Institute representatives in November of 2004, he was told that he was misapplying those materials. Discovery Institute also expressed concerns about whether the factual record demonstrated that the Dover board had acted with a clear secular purpose. Although Discovery Institute believes that there are a number of secular purposes in teaching students about intelligent design, it was not evident whether the Dover board had based its policy on these purposes. Given our clear statements to Thomas More about our views (again, expressed before any lawsuit was filed), we find it difficult to understand why Mr. Thompson has mischaracterized Discovery Institute’s record and position.

3. Mr. Thompson blames Discovery Institute for the non-participation of Discovery Institute Fellows Stephen Meyer, William Dembski, and John Angus Campbell as expert witnesses on behalf of the Dover board. However, the non-participation of these scholars was due to Thomas More, which discharged them.

Meyer, Dembski and Campbell were all willing to testify as expert witnesses. They simply requested that they have their own counsel present at their depositions in order to protect their rights. Yet Thomas More would not permit this. Mr. Thompson has been quoted in media accounts as stating that to permit independent counsel to assert the witnesses’ rights would create a “conflict of interest”–a claim for which he can offer no legal justification. When the witnesses refused to proceed without legal counsel to protect them, Thomas More cancelled the deposition of Prof. Campbell and effectively fired all three expert witnesses. After dismissing its own witnesses, Thomas More made an 11th-hour offer to Dr. Meyer alone to allow him to have counsel after all. But Meyer declined the offer because the previous actions of Thomas More had undermined his confidence in their legal judgment.

Since Meyer, Dembski, and Campbell were discharged, it has been reported that two other expert witnesses for the school board have withdrawn from the case. These two witnesses are not affiliated with Discovery Institute, and Discovery Institute had nothing to do with any decisions surrounding their withdrawal.

4. Discovery Institute continues to believe that teaching about intelligent design is constitutional when appropriately framed, and that the ACLU lawsuit against Dover is little more than an effort at censorship.

Although Discovery Institute does not support the particular policy adopted by Dover, it has been clear in supporting the principle of academic freedom when it comes to intelligent design. That is why the Institute supported filing a friend of the court brief on behalf of 85 scientists who sought protection of the freedom to research and write about intelligent design. That is also why the Institute itself filed its own brief defending the constitutionality of teaching about intelligent design.
Regardless of the particular outcome of the Dover case, Discovery Institute believes that support in the scientific community for the theory of intelligent design will continue to grow. This is because the case for intelligent design is ultimately based on scientific evidence, and that evidence cannot be ruled out of existence by the courts.

Robert Crowther, II

Robert Crowther holds a BA in Journalism with an emphasis in public affairs and 20 years experience as a journalist, publisher, and brand marketing and media relations specialist. From 1994-2000 he was the Director of Public and Media Relations for Discovery Institute overseeing most aspects of communications for each of the Institute's major programs. In addition to handling public and media relations he managed the Institute's first three books to press, Justice Matters by Roberta Katz, Speaking of George Gilder edited by Frank Gregorsky, and The End of Money by Richard Rahn.