At trial, Dover's 'sacrificial lamb'
At trial, Dover's 'sacrificial lamb'
Buckingham interview on YouTube
Buckingham reflects on becoming defense target

By LAURI LEBO - York Daily Record/Sunday News, 3/26/06
Sheila Harkins saw Bill Buckingham take a seat near her.

"I heard you were back," she told him.

One of the orchestrators behind the district's decision to insert intelligent design into its biology curriculum, Buckingham quit the school board last summer and moved to North Carolina.

He left before Dover's six-week trial over the issue and the judge's ruling that the board's actions violated the First Amendment clause against establishing religion.

Now, Buckingham has come back home.

Sitting in his living room in his new Manchester Township home last week, Buckingham reflected on the board's decision, the lawsuit and the trial.

He said he became the trial's "sacrificial lamb."

Of the board members, "they were told to keep their distance from me" during the trial, Buckingham said. Not by the plaintiffs' attorneys, but by the defense.

As a legal strategy during the trial, attorneys with the Thomas More Law Center essentially separated Buckingham from the rest of the board members. Numerous times, they mentioned his addiction to painkillers and said the other board members, who voted in favor of intelligent design, shouldn't be held accountable for his remarks.

In his closing arguments on the last day of the trial, Dover attorney Patrick Gillen summed up the lawsuit by saying it was "built on a molehill of statements by one board member (Buckingham) fighting OxyContin addiction."

Buckingham said he doesn't understand why the district's attorneys did that, "unless they thought I did something along the way that was detrimental to the case."

But he said he understands they had to do what they felt was best. And he still respects them, especially Richard Thompson.

Still, Buckingham admitted, it stung a bit.

"The board members who approached me about it weren't happy it was done," he said.

But since the trial and November election, in which voters ousted eight pro-intelligent design board members, the people who backed the concept don't talk much anymore.

At Hovind's seminar, Buckingham chatted briefly with Harkins and greeted Ed Rowand. Then, they took their separate seats. Unlike the parents in the lawsuit, who became friends and continue to socialize together, the former board members have seen little of each other in the past several months.

"People have gone their separate ways," he said.

But Buckingham said that's not surprising.

Unlike the plaintiffs, he said, there was never a sense of mission drawing them together. Buckingham maintains that all they were trying to do was improve science class for Dover's students.

No 'fair shake'

In his new townhouse in Manchester Township - he and his wife, Charlotte, did not move back to the Dover Area School District - the pictures of the grandkids have not yet been put up and the walls are still bare.

Still, the Buckinghams say, it's good to be back.

Buckingham looks younger than when he testified in the fall, more rested.

He comes across more confident than he did on the stand when plaintiffs' attorney Steve Harvey pointed his finger at him and said, "Mr. Buckingham, you lied to me."

The retired cop's gray hair is cut in a level-edged flattop. He said the warmer weather of North Carolina's Appalachian foothills agreed with him. But they moved back because they missed their family - children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

His views have changed little. The man who denies making remarks about creationism at public school board meetings remains firmly convinced that he was right and those who say otherwise are the liars.

"We never got a fair shake," he said.

Soon after he was elected in 2002, former board member Alan Bonsell began to raise the issue privately about teaching creationism in science class at school board retreats.

But it wasn't until June 2004 that board members spoke publicly about finding a science textbook that balanced the teaching of evolution with creationism.

Then, later that summer, board members switched to using the phrase intelligent design.

Buckingham, who maintains he never used the word "creationism" at a public meeting - even though it was reported that he did so in two separate newspapers and he spoke of it at the time on camera during a Fox 43 television interview - said he first learned the phrase "intelligent design" from Bonsell.

But Buckingham can't remember when that conversation took place.

Buckingham said because of his bout with OxyContin - he has twice sought treatment for his addiction - his memory is unclear about many details. But he said he knows he only spoke publicly about intelligent design - the idea that the complexity of life demands a creator - because that's what other board members have told him.

Jumped the gun

At one point - he doesn't remember when - he was contacted by Seth Cooper, an attorney with the pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute.

While the Discovery Institute's opposition to Dover's curriculum policy has been widely reported, Buckingham said at first Cooper was enthusiastic and supportive. Cooper offered to send him materials about intelligent design.

"He'd call me to see if we were going to go forward," Buckingham said.

But gradually, as the publicity continued, the attorney began to suggest that the board should not move forward on the curriculum change because it could lead to a lawsuit.

"He was afraid we were going to lose the case," Buckingham said. "And he thought, if we did lose the case, it was going to set intelligent design back for years.

"He just didn't think we were the proper people to be pushing this at this time," Buckingham said.

The day after the school board voted in October 2004 to include intelligent design in its biology curriculum, Discovery Institute posted a news release saying it didn't support the school board.

"I think they thought we jumped their gun, so to speak," Buckingham said.

Reach Lauri Lebo at 771-2092 or

Buckingham on his side

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, in his December decision in the intelligent design case, ruled that the Dover Area school board members were motivated by getting religion into science class. Former board member Bill Buckingham maintains that was not the case.

Still, much of what he talks about centers on faith, not science, and his belief that God created all life in six days.

"This was never about religion," he said. "But if it would have been, I'm still waiting for somebody to show me where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state. (Supreme Court Justice) Clarence Thomas after the trial said there is no separation of church and state in the Constitution. And there's nothing in the Constitution that guarantees a woman a right to have an abortion.

"Now I had Clarence Thomas on my side and the president of the United States. I think that's pretty good company. Compared to a judge who has no experience other than head of the liquor control board or the lottery commission, whatever it was."