Judge Rules Intelligent Design Unconstitutional

BY ADELLE M. BANKS and BILL SULON                                                © 2005 Religion News Service

a federal judge dealt a setback to the teaching of intelligent design in public schools by ruling Tuesday (Dec. 20) that a Pennsylvania school district's policy promoted an unconstitutional variation of creationism, a religious theory.

U.S. Middle District Judge John E. Jones, who presided over a six-week trial in Harrisburg, Pa., ruled that intelligent design violates the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which bars government from establishing a religion or favoring one religion over another.

Jones said it is "abundantly clear" the Dover Area School District's policy--which requires that ninth-grade students hear a statement on intelligent design prior to the start of a unit on evolution -- "violates the Establishment Clause."

Jones added: "In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal issue of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."

The landmark case, which garnered international attention, pitted the American Civil Liberties Union and 11 parents in the Dover district against the school board's policy. Proponents of intelligent design say the universe and many living things are so complex that they must have been created by an intelligent, higher being. Critics say intelligent design is unscientific, rooted in creationism and a barely veiled attempt to bring religion into public schools.

Opponents to the Dover policy said the board was motivated by religious beliefs, specifically Christianity, when it approved a one-minute statement in which evolution is described as "not a fact" and intelligent design is mentioned as an alternative explanation of the origin of life.

"This is a tremendous victory for public schools and religious freedom," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of the Washington-based Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which joined the Pennsylvania ACLU in the suit on behalf of the parents.

"It means that school board members have no right to impose their personal religious beliefs on students through the school curriculum."

Ralph G. Neas, president of the Washington-based People for the American Way Foundation, agreed: "The court recognized that intelligent design is nothing more than religious creationism in disguise, and that, as such, it may not be taught as science in public schools. This decision is a resounding victory for science education, for public school students, and for the Constitution."

Advocates of intelligent design criticized Jones, a Republican appointee of President Bush, as an activist judge. They promised the decision will have limited effect because it applies only to the federal court district in which it was handed down.

"Anyone who thinks a court ruling is going to kill off interest in intelligent design is living in another world," said John West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank researching intelligent design.

"Americans don't like to be told there is some idea that they aren't permitted to learn about. It used to be said that banning a book in Boston guaranteed it would be a best-seller. Banning intelligent design in Dover will likely only fan interest in the theory."

Casey Luskin, a Discovery Institute attorney, also downplayed the decision. "In the larger debate over intelligent design, this decision will be of minor significance," said Luskin. She said the theory's "ultimate validity" will be determined "not by the courts but by the scientific evidence pointing to design."

Bill Sulon writes for The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa.

Exiled Iraqi Christians Vote With Concern About Their Future

BY ASHTAR ANALEED MARCUS                                                                                         © 2005 Religion News Service

Yalda Hajey, draped in traditional Assyrian scarves around his neck and waist, with red and green feathers protruding from his hat, dropped his vote into a ballot box, dipped his finger into a purple ink sponge and sprang into an Iraqi jig.
But Hajey's dancing mood turned somber as he talked about recent killings of fellow Christians in Iraq, including three bodyguards protecting a Christian ministry official and two men putting up posters in support of a Christian candidate. Media reports said their splattered blood covered the posters.

"I'm voting for those who martyred themselves," said Hajey, 53, of Chicago, who cast his ballot on December 13.
Like Hajey, many of the tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians in the U. S. are deeply concerned about the future of their religious community in their native land. While the world's focus has largely been on Iraq's Muslim Shiites and Sunnis, Christians in Iraq are an important and suffering religious minority.

According to Iraqi legend, Christianity first came to the region by one of Christ's original apostles, with speculation centering on Thomas, who the Bible famously describes as an initial skeptic of the resurrection. Iraq has been called an ancient root of Christianity, but its Christians say they are as vulnerable as ever, making up an estimated 4 percent of the country's 26 million population.

"Christians are, in terms of history, the oldest inhabitants of Mesopotamia, known as modern Iraq," said Edward Odisho, a professor of culture and lingusitics, specializing in the Middle East, at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago.
Odisho said that Christianity predates Islam in Iraq by centuries, and "in the absence of democracy, they (Christians) have used religion as an umbrella to bring them together."

Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Syrian Orthodox and Church of the East are among the Christian denominations represented in Iraq. But their numbers have decreased in recent years due to a terrorism-induced exodus to other countries.

This election has allowed Iraqis living in the United States and elsewhere to vote over three days for a new government for their homeland. Of the eight American cities hosting elections, Pleasanton, Calif., and Skokie are expected to receive the highest Christian turnout, possibly in the thousands, election officials said.

Iraqi-American Christians are voting, Odisho said, because they want to "emphasize their historical, ancient identity as the indigenous people of Iraq and as the speakers of one of the most historical languages in the world, Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke."

Ruling That Banned Christ's Name
in Indiana Legislature is Appealed

BY BP STAFF                                                                                                                                       © 2005 Baptist Press

The Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives says he is appealing a court decision that bans ministers from using Christ's name in legislative prayers.

Speaker Brian C. Bosma said December 14 that Indiana's attorney general will ask U.S. District Judge David F. Hamilton to reconsider his Nov. 30 ruling and to suspend the order pending an appeal. Bosma said he would appeal the case to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and to the U.S. Supreme Court, if possible.

"I believe it's a critical fight, really a cultural fight, for not just our state, but our nation today," Bosma, a Republican, was quoted as saying in the South Bend Tribune. "I don't desire to be on the cutting edge of that, but this ruling overreaches so far I believe it has to be vigorously fought."

Both Republicans and Democrats in the Indiana legislature have spoken out against Hamilton's ruling, which prevents ministers from using "Christ's name or title or any other denominational appeal." The prayers, Hamilton said in his 60-page decision, must be "non-sectarian."

Bosma said the issue has galvanized people nationwide.

"Since Judge Hamilton's ruling on November 30, my office has been flooded with calls and letters of support from across the nation," Bosma said in a statement posted on his website. "I would like to thank everyone who has offered their prayers and encouragement and assure them that I will continue to fight the federal court's decision."

To read more of this story, click here.

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