School Bans 'Intelligent Design,' Faces Possible Lawsuit

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:05 PM EDT

( - A conservative legal group is threatening to sue a Michigan school district over the administration's confiscation of several copies of a science book that teaches the theory of intelligent design in tandem with the theory of evolution.

The Gull Lake Community School District in Ann Arbor, Mich., ordered that seventh grade science teachers only present the theory of evolution and that copies of "Of Panda and People," be confiscated, according to the Thomas More Law Center.

According to the center, which has filed a complaint with the school district, two science teachers presented the intelligent design theory alongside the theory of evolution and discussed the differences in class until district school superintendent Richard Ramsey confiscated the books.

The intelligent design theory is based on the idea that because the universe is so complex, it must have been set in motion by a higher being. The intelligent design theory does not point to a religious deity, but adopts views of creation similar to those in the Bible.

The center, in its complaint filed April 14, requested that the books be returned to the teachers, and that they be allowed to discuss the two theories again. It gave the district 14 days to respond, threatening to file a lawsuit in federal court.

The complaint describes the Michigan case as the reverse of the famed Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. In the Scopes trial, the state of Tennessee attempted to prevent school teacher John Scopes from teaching scientific material that negated the scriptural accounts of creation.

"Now that Darwinism has achieved dominance," said Thomas More Law Center president Richard Thompson, "it is being forced on all teachers regardless of gaps in the theory or the scientific evidence to the contrary."

Thompson said the school district is violating the teachers' academic freedom and denying students "important information on the growing controversy surrounding the theory of evolution."

He warned that the confiscation of the intelligent design textbook placed the Gull Lake Community School District on "a slippery slope to book burning."

Superintendent Richard Ramsey's office referred all inquiries to the school district's legal counsel, Lisa Swem, who said the actions taken did not amount to a "confiscation." The removal of the textbooks was "a prudent move by the superintendent to just remove them at this point while it's being studied," she added.

Swem said that while the textbooks were removed from the classroom and are being stored on campus, one remains available at the school's library, where all students have access to it. She said she wasn't sure if the district was allowing teachers to use their lessons to encourage students to check out the book.

Swem said the process of discussing the legitimacy of the intelligent design theory is "ongoing." The superintendent, she said, has already commissioned a committee to study the issue and make a recommendation to the local board of education. The advisory committee includes the two teachers who were previously discussing intelligent design theory with their students.

"It is anticipated that the committee will have a recommendation to the board of education before the end of this school year," Swem said, adding that once the recommendation has been submitted to the board, the decision is the board's to make.

She said that litigation from the Thomas More Law Center will "complicate matters," but said that "the school district is going forward as planned, convening the committee, finalizing so they can make a recommendation and a threat of a lawsuit is not going to interfere with that careful, considered, deliberative process."

But Thompson said the school's advisory committee, which was formed in December, is a deception. "This committee has been told they're not going to make a decision until there is a consensus which means that our clients have to agree not to teach intelligent design," Thompson told Cybercast News Service.

The committee is "a total pretext to ... prevent the study of intelligent design," Thompson said. It's "a facade that is not going to get anything done, has not gotten anything done and it's been a pretext under which they have confiscated the books and have told our clients you can't teach intelligent design."

Thompson said the school district is restricting the teaching of the intelligent design theory because it is religious and is not supported by science. But the teachers and Thomas More Law Center say that "it is a credible science and there are scientists that uphold that theory."

He added that intelligent design is not inherently religious because "what we are looking at is scientists coming to the different scientific conclusions based upon empirical data, not Holy Scripture, not the Bible, not liturgy, but scientific data."

Thompson said the Thomas More Law Center will file the lawsuit against the district if unless the teachers in question are allowed to resume their classroom discussions of intelligent design by April 28. Swem said she is currently drafting a response to the center but did not offer details of the reaction.

"Either the students are going to be made aware of the controversy" between the theory of evolution and the theory of intelligent design, Thompson said, "or there will be a lawsuit."

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.