Intelligent Design Group Sues Calif. Science Center

The Discovery Institute, an intelligent design think tank, has filed a petition against the California Science Center for refusing to disclose certain public documents.

The petition comes after the American Freedom Alliance filed a lawsuit against the science center for canceling a contract to screen a pro-intelligent design video at the center's IMAX Theater.

Following the cancellation, the Discovery Institute requested the center to release public documents under the California Public Records Act. On Nov. 2, the center released 44 pages of documents and claimed no documents were withheld, except some personal information such as telephone numbers and email addresses.

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However, the intelligent design think tank contends the claims are false and that some e-mail communications, including ones with the Smithsonian Institution – which allegedly expressed angst over the screening – and ones by decision makers, were not disclosed.

"The Center withheld public communications by decision makers who cancelled the contract with AFA," said Casey Luskin, program officer in Public Policy and Legal Affairs at the Discovery Institute. "We believe the reason the California Science Center withheld these public documents is simple: the e-mails show evidence of discrimination against the pro-intelligent design viewpoint."

The film, "Darwin's Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record," had been scheduled to be shown at the California Science Center on Oct. 25. The Los Angeles premiere was being sponsored by the AFA.

"Darwin's Dilemma" is the third film in the intelligent design trilogy from Illustra Media. It explores the Cambrian explosion, "when in a moment of geological time complex animals first appeared on earth fully formed, without evidence of any evolutionary ancestors." Some of the scientists interviewed in the film propose the theory of intelligent design as an alternative explanation for the appearance of animal life in the Cambrian period.

Pro-evolution film "We Are Born of the Stars" was also scheduled to be shown to provide balance to a discussion about life's origin after the screening.

However, early in October, the center canceled its contract with the AFA, according to the Discovery Institute. The AFA alleges in its lawsuit that museum officials were fearful of having intelligent design discussed in any context.

AFA says its free speech rights were violated and alleges that CSC officials "conspired to drop the event because they did not want the museum to be viewed as legitimizing intelligent design as a scientific theory."

A request was made to the center for the release of public documents.

Among some of the documents obtained, one e-mail sent by University of Southern California professor Hilary Schor on Oct. 6 states, "I'm less troubled by the freedom of speech issues [i.e., the suppression of freedom of speech] than why my tax dollars which support the California Science Center are being spent on hosting religious propaganda!"

Another document shows Ken Phillips, a curator at the CSC, stating, "I personally have a real problem with anything that elevates the concept of intelligent design to a level that makes it appear as though it should be considered equally alongside Darwinian theory as a possible alternative to natural selection. In other words, I see us getting royally played by the Center for Science and Culture resulting in long term damage to our credibility and judgment for a very long time. … No institute supporting an essentially religious philosophy of creation is required to assure that appropriate critique comes to bear on the Darwinian theory."

AFA and the Discovery Institute argue that the cancellation was a result of discrimination and "intolerance for the scientific viewpoint expressed and scientific content contained in 'Darwin's Dilemma.'"

"[I]t is a fundamental principle of First Amendment jurisprudence that when a governmental entity or sub-unit (such as CSC) opens its facilities as a public forum, it is not constitutionally permissible to censor speech based on viewpoint or content," the think tank maintains.

The California Science Center, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is a public-private partnership between the State of California and the not-for-profit California Science Center Foundation.

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