Dover Area School Board members violated the Constitution when they ordered that its biology curriculum must include the notion that life on Earth was produced by an unidentified intelligent cause, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III said. Several members repeatedly lied to cover their motives even while professing religious beliefs, he said.
The school board policy, adopted in October 2004, was believed to have been the first of its kind in the nation, and this was the first major court test of intelligent design in any courtroom, reports CBS News correspondent Barry Bagnato. "Clearly what the judge has said here is going to have ramifications all over the country, where intelligent design is a controversy."
"The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy," Jones wrote.
The ruling could determine whether the concept - which attributes the origin of life and the emergence of highly complex life forms to an unidentified intelligent force - can be mentioned in public school science classes in many jurisdictions, says CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen.
"A trial court ruling is never binding on any other court but you can bet that every other judge who has to face this dispute over intelligent design will pore over this ruling for clues about how to rule," says Cohen, who expects an appeal. "I expect this legal fight to continue for at least a year or so. What I don't expect is for the U.S. Supreme Court to get involved."
The school board had also required that students be told that evolution is just a theory, and that it has gaps, reports Bagnato. It also directed students to books that might teach them more about intelligent design.
The board's attorneys had said members were seeking to improve science education by exposing students to alternatives to Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. Intelligent-design proponents argue that it cannot fully explain the existence of complex life forms.
The plaintiffs challenging the policy argued that intelligent design amounts to a secular repackaging of creationism, which the courts have already ruled cannot be taught in public schools.
Jones said advocates of intelligent design "have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors" and that he didn't believe the concept shouldn't be studied and discussed.
But, he wrote, "our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom."
The controversy also divided the community and galvanized voters to oust eight incumbent school board members who supported the policy in the Nov. 8 school board election.