Yesterday the Kitzmiller trial featured the much-anticipated testimony of former school board member William Buckingham, a figure of controversy because of the religious statements attributed to him in the local press (which he has denied).
After the June 7 and June 14, 2004 board meetings, the York Daily Record and York Dispatch reported that Buckingham said that he wanted “creationism” taught as an alternative to the theory of evolution. The papers reported that he was worried because the textbook proposed by science faculty was “laced with Darwinism” and that he wanted a book with a balance “between creationism and evolution.” His concern: “If you teach evolution over and over again, the students will believe it is fact.” He was said to have challenged a member of the public “to trace your roots to the monkey you came from.”
Buckingham was also quoted as claiming that “separation of church and state is mythic” and that it wasn’t necessary to teach Hindu, Muslim or other religious beliefs alongside creationism because “This country wasn’t founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution. It was founded on Christianity.”
Then, there was the famous quote: “2000 years ago someone died on a cross for us; shouldn’t we have the courage to stand up for him?”
Buckingham said that he never read any of the articles published about the Board meetings (although both papers were delivered to his house every day) and that for the most part he wasn’t told what was being reported. He testified that he hadn’t reviewed the news articles to prepare for trial because he didn’t “give a darn thing about what they print.”
When asked to read the news articles, Buckingham testified that the reporters for the Daily Record and the Dispatch got most things right, but that they “made up” his use of the word “creationism.” He also said that some statements – including “2000 years ago…” and “…founded on Christianity” — were things he had said in late 2003, after a Board debate over requiring students to say the Pledge of Allegiance that focused on the words “under God” in the pledge.
[Gratuitous side comment: The courts have held unequivocally that the First Amendment forbids a school from requiring a student to recite the pledge.]
Buckingham said he believed that the reporters simply substituted the word “creationism” every time a Board member said “intelligent design.” He stated emphatically that neither he nor any other School Board member ever used the word “creationism” during any School Board meeting, Curriculum Committee meeting, private discussion or to the press.
Then Steve Harvey of Pepper Hamilton LLP played for Buckingham a segment aired by Fox News in the summer of 2004. All around the courtroom, Buckingham’s face appeared on monitors and screens, saying, “It’s OK to teach Darwinism, but you have to balance it with something else, such as creationism.”
Buckingham said he’d forgotten about that interview. He characterized the interview by the Fox News reporters as an “ambush” and said he’d felt like a “deer in the headlights.” He then explained that he had been so concerned about all the news reports that used the word “creationism” – the same reports he’d said that he never read, wasn’t told about and didn’t “give a darn thing about” – that he was concentrating really hard on not using that word and it just slipped out. “I made a mistake,” he said.
At his first deposition, Buckingham had testified that he “absolutely” voted to purchase Biology in time for the beginning of classes in the Fall of 2004. Yesterday, Buckingham conceded that he had voted against buying the biology textbook to try to force the Board to purchase Pandas as a companion text. He agreed with the news report that he had said, “If he didn’t get his book, then the District would not get its book.”
Buckingham testified that he learned about Pandas from Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center, when seeking a textbook that offered an alternative to evolution. In proposing the curriculum change, Buckingham sought only legal advice, never any educational or scientific advice. Nor did he consult the Curriculum Advisory Committee, which is made up of Dover Area residents, because he was new to the Board and didn’t realize that was Board policy.
Finally, Mr. Harvey asked Buckingham about the School Distric’s acquisition of dozens of copies of Pandas. Buckingham testified that members of his church had donated money for the purchase of the books, and that he written a check to Donald Bonsell, father of the President of the School Board Alan Bonsell [who will be testifying next week]. He stated that he didn’t share that information when a member of the public asked how the district got Pandas because he “didn’t think it was relevant.”
Mr. Harvey then asked Buckingham to read from his deposition. Mr. Harvey had asked where the books came from and Buckingham had responded that he did not know who had donated the books, but that he had “deduced” there might be a tie to Alan Bonsell just because Bonsell was Board President. In the same deposition Buckingham said he did not ask where the books came from “because I didn’t want to know.”
“Didn’t you lie to me?” asked Mr. Harvey. Buckingham responded that his deposition answer was truthful because he didn’t know the names of the church members who had made cash donations for the purchase of the books.
Then, came the reporter…
Immediately after Buckingham’s testimony, Heidi Bernhard-Bubb, the author of the York Dispatch articles that Buckingham claimed were inaccurate, testified. ACLU Legal Director Vic Walczak walked Ms. Bernhard-Bubb through each of the eight articles and she confirmed that her quotes were correct. In particular, she confirmed that she heard Buckingham and other Board members say they wanted to add “creationism” to the biology curriculum at June 7, 2004 Board meeting and heard Buckingham use that word again at the June 14 Board meeting. She testified that the phrase “intelligent design” was not mentioned until the August 2, 2004 Board meeting – which is why it did not appear in any of her articles until August. She also confirmed that she heard Buckingham make the other statements she attributed to him.
Ms. Bernhard-Bubb will be cross examined today.
submitted by Mary Catherine Roper, Staff Attorney, ACLU of PA