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Toobin: 'A very important precedent'

Judge equates 'intelligence design' to creationism in garb

CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin


Jeffrey Toobin
Intelligent design

(CNN) -- A public school cannot mandate "intelligent design," a concept critics liken to creationism, for its science classes, a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled Tuesday.

CNN's Daryn Kagan spoke with senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin about the legal ramifications this case, involving a central Pennsylvania school district, has on the rest of the nation. (Read about case)

KAGAN: There are school districts all around the country watching what this judge decided.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. This is a major, major decision, because ... the political and religious forces who fought to get creationism -- the biblical theory of creation -- taught in schools -- [which the] Supreme Court rejected ... in 1987... they have been reworking creationism to have a more scientific bent, to be less specifically religiously-oriented.

But Judge Jones ruled that this was really just creationism in another garb. And he rejected it in this school district. And you're right that this is only applied to this specific school district, and other school districts may try it. But certainly this will be a very important precedent that other judges will look to in deciding whether intelligent design may be tried elsewhere in the country.

KAGAN: This was a school board -- an elected school board -- that made a decision to insert this [concept into the curriculum], and now here comes a judge changing that decision. This would, I would imagine, add to the debate of courts versus elected officials making law.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. And this has been going on around the country ... It came up in Georgia as well.

When you talk about the politics, there is a very interesting situation that happened in Dover itself. The school board that put forward intelligent design -- the more conservative school board, if you will -- was voted out en masse last December by a group of educators and parents who said this was too much of a distraction, the kids should get back to studying just plain science.

So what I think this means is that this ruling will probably not be appealed, that the current school board wants to be done with the whole controversy, to go back to teaching ordinary science ...

KAGAN: So in some ways, this school board really wasn't waiting for this decision with bated breath. Because, as you said, they've been swapped out by the members who are probably going to take this school district in a different direction. But on a bigger picture, school boards all around the country [have been] waiting to hear what this judge had to say.

TOOBIN: Including President Bush. And President Bush last year said very clearly that he thinks there should be alternatives to evolution taught, that he thinks -- as many of the supporters of intelligent design say -- you should teach the controversy. But those people suffered a real blow in the courtroom.

And interestingly, the judge in this case, Judge Jones, was an appointee of this President Bush in 2002. So the argument that this was some out-of-control liberal judge is going to be a little harder to make, given the fact that he was appointed by President Bush.

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