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Intelligent design ruling likely to cool challenges to evolution, lawyer says

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Stephen G. Harvey spoke last night at the annual meeting of the Northwest Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union at the Toledo Club.

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Want to see an example of evolution in action? Then look at how evolution's main opponents have changed, said the lawyer who won the case against intelligent design in Dover, Pa.

They're "an excellent example of evolution in a nonbiological world," said Stephen G. Harvey, who spoke last night at the annual meeting of the Northwest Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union at the Toledo Club.

"They've adapted their strategies to a hostile legal environment. First, they pushed straight creationism, then it was creation science, then intelligent design, then 'teach the controversy,'●" he said in an interview with The Blade before his speech.

Mr. Harvey co-led the ACLU's successful court battle against the teaching of intelligent design in the Dover schools. Intelligent design proponents maintain that some things in nature are too complex to have evolved and must have been made by an unnamed designer. Evolution says all living things were formed by incremental changes over time.

The strongly worded decision from U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones in the Dover case hasn't driven evolution's opponents toward extinction, but it does make future legal challenges to evolution a "hot stove" no one wants to touch, Mr. Harvey said.

It could keep evolution from facing a court challenge for a long time.

"They saw somebody else touch the stove and get burned. I think that's the lesson learned in Ohio," he said.

The Ohio Board of Education reversed a two-year-old policy encouraging the teaching of intelligent design after the Dover decision.

The cost of the lawsuit to Dover schools surely discourages many lawsuits. Judge Jones awarded the three groups representing the plaintiffs $2 million. Mr. Harvey's firm, Pepper Hamilton LLP, of Philadelphia, agreed to recover costs only, reducing the award to $1 million, which went to the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

If evolution lands in court again, it will be over something called "teach the controversy," Mr. Harvey said.

The Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor acted as the Dover board's legal counsel.

Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel for the More center, said earlier this year that he hopes to take evolution to court again, this time defending two Michigan teachers who claim academic freedom to continue including intelligent design in their science classes.

But Mr. Harvey said such a case is unlikely.

"I don't believe it's actually coming," he said.

Academic freedom applies only at the college level, not for public school teachers, he said, who must follow a school board's dictates.

"The idea that some school teacher feels they have a right to teach what they think is right to your child is something that should give parents some very serious pause," he said.

Contact Jenni Laidman at:

jenni@theblade.com

or 419 724-6507.

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