In a remarkably stinging decision, a federal judge ruled Tuesday that intelligent design is not science but religion in disguise, and he barred a Pennsylvania public school district from teaching the concept to high school biology students.
The ruling was a major setback for the intelligent design movement, which holds that living organisms are so complex that they must have been created by some kind of higher force.
The case was one of the biggest courtroom clashes between faith and evolution since the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial.
U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III came down firmly on the side of evolution, delivering a stern rebuke to the Dover school board. He said its first-in-the-nation decision in October 2004 to insert intelligent design into the science curriculum violated the constitutional separation of church and state.
He decried the "breathtaking inanity" of the policy and accused several board members of lying to conceal their true motive, which he said was to promote religion.
A six-week trial over the issue yielded "overwhelming evidence" establishing that intelligent design "is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory," said Jones, a Republican and a churchgoer appointed to the federal bench three years ago.
Adopted in October 2004, the policy was believed to have been the first of its kind in the nation, 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," Bagnato reports.
Dover is a small town in rural Pennsylvania. Mostly white, mostly Christian, mostly conservative, CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod reports. But, the school system said it will probably not appeal the ruling, because several members who backed intelligent design were ousted in November's elections and replaced with a new slate opposed to the policy.
During the trial, the board argued that it was trying to improve science education by exposing students to alternatives to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and natural selection.
The policy required students to hear a statement about intelligent design before ninth-grade lessons on evolution. The statement said Darwin's theory is "not a fact" and has inexplicable "gaps." It referred students to an intelligent-design textbook, "Of Pandas and People."
But the judge said: "We find that the secular purposes claimed by the board amount to a pretext for the board's real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom."
In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states cannot require public schools to balance evolution lessons by teaching creationism.
"This doesn't end the case," says CBSNews.com Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen. "We almost certainly will see an appeal here and the ruling doesn't prevent any other school board in any other jurisdiction from trying to get Intelligent Design into public classrooms. But clearly this ruling is a sign that those efforts will not get any easier."