Dover judge addresses graduates
Dover judge addresses graduates
Jones said founders saw religion coming through inquiry.

Staff and news service report
May 22, 2006 CARLISLE - A federal judge who outlawed the teaching of "intelligent design" in Dover science classes told graduates at Dickinson College that the nation's founders saw religion as the result of personal inquiry, not church doctrine. U.S. District Judge John E. Jones gave the commencement address Sunday to 500 graduates at Dickinson College, his alma mater. Jones received national attention during a 2005 trial on whether intelligent design should be taught to students in Dover Area School District.

"The founders believed that true religion was not something handed down by a church or contained in a Bible, but was to be found through free, rational inquiry," said Jones, who was thrust into the national spotlight by last year's court fight over the teaching of evolution in the Dover school district.

The founding fathers - from school namesake John Dickinson to Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson - were products of the Enlightenment, Jones said.

"They possessed a great confidence in an individual's ability to understand the world and its most fundamental laws through the exercise of his or her reason," he said.

"This core set of beliefs led the founders, who constantly engaged and questioned things, to secure their idea of religious freedom by barring any alliance between church and state."

Following a six-week trial in 2005 that explored concepts in biology, theology and paleontology, Jones concluded that the Dover Area School Board had violated the separation between church and state.

Intelligent design holds that living organisms are so complex some kind of higher being must have created them. In his ruling, Jones called it "an old religious argument for the existence of God" and accused the school board of "breathtaking inanity" in trying to teach it.

In a 139-page opinion, Jones ruled that intelligent design was repackaged creationism, which courts had previously ruled should not be taught in science classes.

Jones struck down Dover Area School Board's curriculum policy that required biology students to hear a statement that told them "intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Charles Darwin's view."

The school board had argued that it hoped to expose students to alternatives to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

The intelligent design case cost the district more than $1 million in legal fees - and cost school board members, who were turned out in November's election, their seats.

Jones credited his liberal arts education at Dickinson, more than his law school years, for preparing him for what he calls his "Dover moment."

"It was my liberal arts education . . . that provided me with the best ability to handle the rather monumental task of deciding the Dover case," he said.

Daily Record/Sunday News staff writer Michele Canty contributed to this report