U.S. District Judge John E. Jones delivered a stinging attack on the Dover Area School Board, saying its first-in-the-nation decision in October 2004 to insert intelligent design into the science curriculum violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
The ruling was a major setback to the intelligent design movement, which is also waging battles in Georgia and Kansas. Intelligent design holds that living organisms are so complex that they must have been created by some kind of higher force.
Jones decried the "breathtaking inanity" of the Dover 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.
The school system said it will probably not appeal the ruling, because the 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 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.
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.
"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."
Eric Rothschild, an attorney for the families who challenged the policy, called the ruling "a real vindication for the parents who had the courage to stand up and say there was something wrong in their school district."