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Friday, February 24, 2006

Legal bill could halt imitators, Dover cost might make districts rethink ID plans

If Dover's model of a divided community didn't discourage people who want to test the science behind intelligent design, the legal bill might.

Some involved in the Dover Area School District intelligent design debate said the school's $1 million legal bill will deter copycats who want to push the movement into science classes, but others said the movement will continue to thrive.

Nick Matzke, a spokesman for the National Center for Science Education, closely followed the federal civil suit filed against the former school board after it passed a policy to include intelligent design in science classes. His group consulted, at no charge, for the parents who filed the lawsuit.

He said school district attorneys pay close attention to numbers like "$1 million," and would likely advise school boards against fighting for intelligent design in court.

But that might not stop some school boards, he said.

Court records in Dover's case showed that the district's solicitor, Stephen Russell, recommended the board not pursue intelligent design.

"The real issues seem to be fundamentalist religion, and sometimes those people don't pay attention to the deterrents," Matzke said. "You can't always depend on people to be rational."

The school board voted at its Tuesday meeting to pay $1 million in legal fees for attorneys who successfully sued the district for requiring that intelligent design be mentioned as an alternative to evolution in ninth-grade biology classes.

The district -- its taxpayers -- must pay the fees because the judge ruled that the policy to require mentioning intelligent design was religiously motivated and violated the Constitution.

Legal fees for thousands of hours spent preparing the case for federal court totaled more than $2 million, but the Pepper Hamilton law firm, which had some attorneys representing the parents, agreed not to charge for those hours.

The legal fees include costs for attorneys and other workers from the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and.

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