Walking into the courtroom on Friday, it was clear that this was not just another day of trial. Everyone seemed to be dressed up in honor of the significance of the occasion (even irreverent York Daily Record columnist Mike Argento wore a sport coat, as someone next to me pointed out). Some of our lawyers appeared almost giddy, and several confessed that, despite the exhaustion of working almost around the clock for six weeks, they were sad to see it end. Few of the legal team live in Harrisburg, and so most stayed in apartments for the duration. Over the many late nights, gallons of coffee, and the 3 am runs to Kinkos, the team had developed a close bond.
As our clients filed into the courtroom and greeted their lawyers, it was clear that a strong bond had developed between the two as well. Repeatedly, plaintiffs talked about how “brilliant” the attorneys were, and how grateful they were to them. The legal team expressed admiration for the courage of our clients, and asked them to autograph copies of the complaint. At the end of the day, the plaintiffs’ lawyers and their clients had plans to gather together to decompress from the trial and undoubtedly swap stories.
But enough of the touchy-feely stuff. The morning began with Dr. Scott Minnich and yes, more testimony about “bacterial flagellum” and “irreducible complexity” (two phrases I suspect that most people in the court room will be happy never to hear again). Dr. Minnich testified about how it was a risk in his field to come out as an intelligent design proponent. Plaintiff’s attorney Steve Harvey replied, “That’s because the entire scientific community rejects intelligent design, doesn’t it?” Minnich answered, “That’s correct.”
Later Steve Harvey asked Minnich whether it was possible that there was more than one designer, or possibly an “evil designer” and a “good designer.” Minnich replied that that was a theology question. He stated that the intelligent design theory only takes one to the point that there is some kind of intelligent designer, after that, “theology or philosophy takes over.”
After the lunch break, the judge and the lawyers discussed in minute detail which exhibits would be admitted into the record. It was clear that spectators in the packed courtroom were eager to get through this portion in order to get to the good stuff: closing arguments.
Eric Rothschild presented a stirring summation of all that the court had witnessed over the past six weeks: how creationism had been discussed at board meetings, and how certain board members had denied that, despite overwhelming evidence and testimony to the contrary; the fact that intelligent design is really creationism in disguise, with no real scientific component; that the biology teachers repeatedly resisted the idea of teaching intelligent design; and that certain board members had tried to hide the source of the donated Of Pandas and People books. (Rather than trying to include a lengthy summary here, I recommend you read his entire closing.)
Patrick Gillen, who had missed the morning session due to illness, gave the defendants’ closing argument. He denied that the board members had been “religious co-conspirators,” stating that the primary motivation of the school board had been “to provide a good science education” for Dover’s students. He repeatedly said that intelligent design “may be the next great paradigm of science,” and the students would have an advantage by finding out about this new paradigm earlier than most. He stated that then-president Alan Bonsell was not scared of evolution, he was scared of “science taught as dogma.”
Gillen stated that “the science teachers were not trained in intelligent design,” so it “doesn’t make sense” that they were qualified to say that it wasn’t science. He went on to say that they should rely on someone with a PhD, like Michael Behe, who believes that intelligent design is science. He also pointed out that the school board, whose members were elected by the community, had the final say in a dispute with teachers over curriculum. The board has “the right and the duty to exercise its judgment.”
He repeatedly brought up that it’s “not the case that mere mention of creationism is illegal in this country,” and that the personal beliefs of a few board members did not mean that that was what motivated the board to introduce intelligent design into the curriculum. He pointed out that as a result of this controversy, the library had received donations of many books, both pro-ID and anti-ID. “Now how can adding books to the library be a bad thing?” he asked. He concluded by stating that the four-paragraph statement about evolution and intelligent design “does not by any reasonable measure” threaten the establishment clause.
After closing arguments, Judge Jones gave some very moving remarks that had at least one of our clients close to tears. He saluted the “solemnity, dignity, and respect” shown by the spectators throughout the six weeks, befitting a trial of such importance. He acknowledged the press and the fact that it was “not easy to do what you do.”
He saved his highest praise, appropriately, for the lawyers and their staff. “Watching you…made me aware of why I became a lawyer and why I became a judge,” said Judge Jones. He repeatedly stressed how the two sides had treated each other with collegiality and professionalism throughout the trial. He told the spectators that they had witnesses some of the “best presentations and finest lawyers I have ever had the privilege to see.”
“It was a privilege to have each and every one of you before me,” he concluded.
He asked if either side had any thing else to say. The defendants’ attorney Patrick Gillen noted that the day was the fortieth day of the trial, and that night was the fortieth night. He asked if the judge had done that on purpose.
The judge said with a smile that it was “not by design.” The entire courtroom broke out in laughter and then applause.
And with that, the biggest trial on evolution in two decades came to a close.
Submitted by Sara Mullen, Associate Director, ACLU of PA