When Patrick Gillen, of the Thomas More Law Center, gave his opening statement, he referred to School Board President Alan Bonsell: “He had an interest in creationism. He wondered whether it could be discussed in the classroom.”
Yesterday, Bonsell shared with the court his personal belief: that “creationism is the literal interpretation of the Bible.” He stated, “I don’t believe that the earth is billions of years old. I would say thousands; that’s my personal religious belief.” He added that, while he believes in microevolution, he does not think that humans have evolved from other species.
According to the minutes taken by Dover’s school board superintendent, Bonsell brought up creationism twice for discussion at board retreats. Bonsell does not recall this. “I must have brought it. I don’t remember; I wish I did, but I don’t remember every bringing it up.” “Obviously, I said the word at two board meetings,” based on Dr. Nilsen’s notes, “but I never brought the theory forward.”
Bonsell denied that the word creationism was ever brought up at the June 2004 school board meetings, despite being confronted with testimony from Assistant Superintendent Michael Baksa and science teacher Bertha Spahr that stated the contrary. Bonsell blamed this perception on the press, which he repeatedly stated “mix words up.” “They kept saying teaching instead of making aware, saying creationism instead of intelligent design.” He blamed the press for printing quotes from school board member William Buckingham in June (“2000 years ago, someone died on a cro…”). Bonsell attributed those quotes to a discussion of the pledge of allegiance.
Plaintiff’s counsel Steve Harvey, of Pepper Hamilton, began his cross examination with a projection of an $850 check that Buckingham had collected from his church for the the purchase of the Pandas books for the school. Buckingham testified that he handed this check to Bonsell to give to his father, Donald Bonsell, who actually bought the books.
In a November 4th school board meeting, former board member Larry Snook asked where the donated copies of Of Pandas and People had come from. None of the board members responded. When asked about this yesterday by plaintiff’s counsel Steve Harvey, Bonsell said “I don’t recall.” Harvey asked again, “You didn’t provide information.” Bonsell said, “No.”
In his January deposition, Bonsell was asked again who donated the books. Harvey read from Bonsell’s testimony: “Who donated the books?” “They wanted to remain anonymous…I knew of one donor, Donald Bonsell.” Harvey then asked, “You never mentioned anything about getting a check from Mr. Buckingham?”
Mr. Bonsell replied, “No.”
Testimony was barely concluded when Judge Jones announced that he was “going to exercise [his] prerogative.” Instead of sending the courtroom off into the Halloween evening, as expected, the judge asked for a copy of the deposition transcript.
The judge began questioning Bonsell.
“Why did you tell Mr. Rothschild” that you didn’t know where the books came from? “You knew you had gotten a check” from Mr. Buckingham. “Why was your father involved? Why didn’t Mr. Buckingham give you the money directly?”
Judge Jones answered his own question: “He was not donating the books; he was buying them with money with from Mr. Buckingham’s church.”
Mr. Bonsell stammered some answers, which did not seem to satisfy the judge, who left looking stern and red in the face.
Wednesday’s testimony features board member Sheila Harkins. Harkins met with Alan Bonsell, William Buckingham, Superintendent Nilsen and the Thomas More attorneys the night before their January depositions. The latter three witnesses have all had strikingly similar stories when asked if creationism was ever mentioned in a school board meeting and in suggesting that Mr. Buckingham’s oft-quoted statements were made during an earlier meeting. All denied in deposition that they knew from whom the books were donated. We will see if Harkins shares a similar tale….
Intelligent-design judge lashes out
Submitted by Amy Laura Cahn, Community Education Organizer, ACLU of PA