Trial: Day 4

On the stand today was Carol “Casey” Brown, a Dover resident and former reporter for the York Dispatch. She and her husband, Jeffrey, each have a child who attended the Dover schools. For five and ten years, respectively, Mr. and Mrs. Brown served on the Dover Area School Board, until they both resigned on October 18th, 2004. Today, Mrs. Brown testified as to the events leading to that resignation. In doing so, she called attention, not only to the desire of certain board members to shape school policy based on their religious convictions, but to the intimidation tactics and unusual procedural routes taken to further these goals.

Mrs. Brown began her narrative by describing a January 2002 retreat where the newly elected board president Alan Bonsell “expressed the desire to bring prayer and faith back into schools.”

“He mentioned bibles.” Mrs. Brown said, “and he mentioned creationism.”

Questions of creationism came up again as the board’s curriculum committee began addressing the need for new biology textbooks, preparing for the 2003-04 school year. A member of the committee at the time, Mrs. Brown stated that teachers had stopped using the old books because they were not in accordance with the state mandate. They had requested the purchase of Biology by Miller and Levine. The request was denied due to budget concerns.

The next year, in each of its June meetings, the board discussed the book, but committee chair William Buckingham stalled a vote because he viewed the book to be “laced with Darwinism” and “not balanced.” He repeated a statement from fall 2003, “regarding his disbelief in separation of church and state.” Mrs. Brown remembered also his concern that evolution and creationism should be “taught side by side.”

At the next meeting, Mr. Buckingham continued his objections. In addition, Mr. Bonsell allowed Mr. Buckingham’s wife to speak for 10-15 minutes, in a manner described by Mrs. Brown as akin to a “chautauqua… an old tent revival.”

“She described how to accept Christ as our personal savior. She spoke very vehemently in favor of creationism…she read from Scripture.” Mrs. Brown recalled that “there were muttered amens” from board members, including Mr. Buckingham.

In the meeting, Mr. Brown raised concerns about the legality of bringing the subject of creationism into the schools and was called a coward by Mr. Buckingham.

And the issue of the biology book was not resolved. Buckingham had brought up several objections – including the fact the inclusion of Charles Darwin in a science timeline and the absences of any “mention of creationism or god.” He was even bothered that, in a section on Darwin’s finches, “the finch had been named for Darwin.”

In the summer of 2004, Mr. Buckingham proposed the intelligent design book, Of Pandas and People, as an “adjunct alternative text.” At the August 2004 meeting, Mr. Buckingham indicated that he would “give [the district the] biology book” if they agreed to include Of Pandas and People. He said that he had the votes to prevent them from getting books. “We lost [the vote’,” said Mrs. Brown, but a board member on the winning side requested a re-vote and changed her position rather than deny students their books.

Then, in September 2004, Vice Superintendent Baksa informed Mrs. Brown of a proposal to modify the biology curriculum so that, in the words of curricular materials, “Students will be made aware of gaps in Darwin’s theory and other theories of evolution.” While changes to the curriculum are usually due to “changes in mandates by the state,” changes in the subject matter or changes in textbooks, Mrs. Brown indicated that Mr. Buckingham seemed to be spearheading these changes.

On the Thursday prior to the October 18th meeting, she received from Baksa a revised statement that students would be “made aware of gaps…including but not limited to intelligent design” and Pandas was to be used as a reference.

“Normal procedures were not in place,” said Mrs. Brown. “Anything related to curriculum changes at this time [of the year] was unusual.” The teachers were not involved, only learning of the changes “on the morning of October 18th.” Finally, the community-based Curriculum Advisory Board was not consulted. According to Mrs. Brown, “it was unheard of for stakeholders not to be involved.”

On October 18th, the new material was approved in a 6-3 vote, changing the curriculum. At the end of the meeting, Mrs. Brown “asked for recognition from Mr. Bonsell and resigned.”

Today, she read from her prepared statement of resignation:

“We as board members serve as the representatives of our community to our district, representing all of the members of our community and representing all viewpoints… We cannot favor one over another… In the past year, there seems to have been a shift…There has been a marginalization of some of the board members… Religious belief is of paramount importance [to some board members]… I have been asked twice if I have been born again…With deepest regret, I am stepping down…I shall pray that you will learn to represent all the members of this community.”

“Just after stepping down from the board,” concluded Mrs. Brown, “[Mr Buckingham] decried my belief and called me an atheist.” A couple months later, at the recess of a board meeting, Mrs. Brown told the court that Mr Bonsell “accused me and my husband of destroying the board. He told me that I would be going to hell.”

Submitted by Amy Laura Cahn, Community Education Organizer, ACLU of Pennsylvania

8 thoughts on “Trial: Day 4

  1. Hi,
    [url=]Here’s [/url]an account of some ID/creationist types here in the UK. They don’t seem to be as strong here as they are in the US, but there has been some controversy with semi-state Christian schools teaching creationism

    Best wishes
    Padraig Reidy
    Deputy Editor
    New Humanist

  2. Mrs. Brown’s testimony corroborates my memory of the events as they were relayed in the press at the time. I understand that the Defendant Board members are planning on testifying that their words has been mis-characterized, or that the statements ascribed to them were never made. Frankly, I believe Mrs. Brown. The actions of the Board make no sense if she’s lying, but fit nicely if she’s telling the truth.

    That being said, it never ceases to amaze me how dishonest these proponents of ID can be. Not just in this particular action, but across the country, in case after case, time after time, the one hallmark of their beliefs is their dishonesty .

    I was raised a Christian, and still follow most of the basic judeo-christian morals that were taught to me. I still believe that, no matter what one’s religious beliefs may be, lying is not right. It’s a violation of the compact all humans have with one another to treat each other as one expects to be treated himself. (does that sound familiar, Christians?)

    So this dishonesty on the part of these “creationists”, who apparently believe that there is an exception in the Ten Commandments for lying, provided one “lies for God”, I find morally reprehensible (in the words of Bill Bennett)and particularly un-Christian like. They are hypocrites.

    I can’t believe that Christ, if he actually existed, would have been very proud of them. They really give Christianity a bad name.

  3. In my opinion, if there WERE an Almighty Christian God, then yes, Mrs. Brown WILL be going to hell… to visit Mr. Buckingham and the other knucklehead members of the Dover School Board. Mrs. Bown will throw another log on the fire, and wave a cheery goodbye to the Board as she passes through on her Visit The Dammed Tour, presented by Pearly Gate Vacations.

  4. This is an example of what Aaron Lynch (Thought Contagion) calls an aggressive meme; that is, a conceptual unit that has morphed into a competitively aggressive idea, where tolerance etc. are now considered weaknesses. This is the ‘beast’ that has enveloped much of the religious community in this country; a parallel example is Wahibism in Islam, where the edicts of the Koran are essentially ignored in favor of a much more dangerous and narrow interpretation of Islam. We also see this in India, where the movement ‘Hindutva’, a rather fascistic version of the religion in the garb of a quasi-political movement, has gained much power, a fact little known in our own country. When any belief moves into a non-tolerance mode, including abuse and overt aggressiveness towards ‘non-believers’, we are witnessing the memetic evolution (ironically) of an idea to stay ahead of its competition.


  5. The total lack of even a rudimentary understanding in evolutionary theory is apparent in the Dover case. This misunderstand includes not only biology but the very basic principles of scientific methodology and what does or does not constitute scientific evidence and how that evidence is gathered and evaluated. This clearly illustrates the failure of the American educational system to produce students competent to evaluate any claim and to turn out students who can think critically. Is it really any wonder that a large segment of the American public are duped into a plethora of bogus beliefs? Try and persuade the average citizen of the illegitimacy of Little Greene Men, Sasquatch, horoscope, numerology, ESP, ghosts, spirits, angels, demons, The Bermuda Triangle, Atlantis, pyramid power, or any other endless list such nonsense. I dare say that there are very few of us that are rationalists and skeptics that discount any such tomfoolery. Maybe we’re learning a valuable lesson by Dover’s example; we need to start teaching critical thinking skills and the scientific method in public schools from a very early age. I doubt if this will happen though, at least that’s what my palm reader and crystal ball has to say.

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