Court Tackles 'Intelligent Design'

H1N1 survivor Karin McHugh
CBS/The Early Show
CBS News correspondent Thalia Assuras reports that eighty years after the Scopes Monkey Trial, the opening of the trial in federal court marked the latest legal chapter in the debate over the teaching of evolution in public school.

"Intelligent design" is a religious theory that was inserted in a school district's curriculum with no concern for whether it had scientific underpinnings, a lawyer told a federal judge Monday as a landmark trial got under way.

"They did everything you would do if you wanted to incorporate a religious point of view in science class and cared nothing about its scientific validity," said Eric Rothschild, an attorney representing eight families who are challenging the decision of the Dover Area School District.

But in his opening statement, the school district's attorney defended Dover's policy of requiring ninth-grade students to hear a brief statement about intelligent design before biology classes on evolution.

"This case is about free inquiry in education, not about a religious agenda," argued Patrick Gillen of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. "Dover's modest curriculum change embodies the essence of liberal education." The center, which lobbies for what it sees as the religious freedom of Christians, is defending the school district.

But to some observers, the anti-evolutionists are winning the public relations battle, Assuras reports. Fourteen states have introduced legislation in support of intelligent design. President Bush said recently that "both sides ought to be properly taught."

The eight families argue that the district policy violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

One of those parents is Barrie Callahan,

"Religion cannot be taught in science class," Callahan told Assuras. "Science isn't about 'who.' Science is about 'what, how.' It's not about 'who.'"

About 75 spectators crowded the courtroom of U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III for the start of the non-jury trial. But the scene outside the courthouse was business as usual except for a lone woman reading the Bible.

Arguing that intelligent design is a religious theory, not science, Rothschild said he would show that the language in the school district's own policy made clear its religious intent.