Calif. Sets Stage for First Intelligent Design Legal Battle

A California school is being sued for teaching an elective philosophy class on intelligent design that criticizes evolution, and is being asked to stop the class because it violates the U.S. Constitution.

The suit in federal court filed on Tuesday states that the separation of church and state is being violated by Frazier Mountain High School in Lebec, a rural town about 60 miles north of Los Angeles. Intelligent design theory holds that some aspects of nature are so complex that they point to an intelligent designer.

“The course was designed to advance religious theories on the origins of life, including creationism and its offshoot, ‘intelligent design,’” the suit stated. “Because the teacher has no scientific training, students are not provided with any critical analysis of this presentation.”

The case in California is the state’s first involving intelligent design. It follows a prominent federal case involving a school district in Dover, Pa., where a judge ruled that intelligent design was not science, but a form of creationism and should not be taught in science classes.

The El Tejon Unified School District Board of Trustees approved the course at Frazier, called “Philosophy of Design,” to be taught for one month at the beginning of the year. Attorneys believed the course could survive if a court challenge came since the class contained the word “philosophy,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

The teacher of the class is Sharon Lemburg, who is a special education instructor and wife of an Assemblies of God minister. The Pentecostal denomination holds a strong position on creationism, believing in the literal 7-day creation of the earth by God.

The course description of the class, which students and their families were told about, says that “the class will take a close look at evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological and biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin’s philosophy is not rock solid.”

The Superintendent of the School district in California said last week that the “Philosophy of Design” course was not being taught as science in order to give the students the opportunity to debate the issue, according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, one of the main proponents of Intelligent Design who opposed the Dover ruling has suggested that the intelligent design course being presented in California change its course materials or the name of its elective philosophy class.

"The title and nature of this course are problematic and appear to misrepresent the content of the course and intelligent design," wrote a Discovery Institute attorney in a letter sent to the El Tejon Unified School District.

The letter urged the school district to "either reformulate the course by removing the young earth creationist materials or re-title the course as a course not focused on intelligent design.”

The Discovery Institute maintains that intelligent design is science, has nothing to do with biblical creation, and bases itself only on empirical evidence to infer design.

However the liberal group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which also helped argue the Dover case, asserts that the theory promotes biblical creationism, making it an unconstitutional injection of religion into the public school.

The federal case is Hurst v. Newman, 06-00012.