Of Santa and Unintelligent Design
It’s Christmas, which means it’s that time of year when a federal court somewhere renders a ruling on the separation of church and state.
A few years ago, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott of Cincinnati came to the rescue of Christmas as a federal holiday in a lawsuit that challenged its constitutionality. In a decision that gave new meaning to the phrase “poetic justice,” Dlott wrote:
The court will address
Plaintiff’s seasonal confusion
Erroneously believing Christmas
Merely a religious intrusion.
We’re all better for Santa,
The Easter Bunny, too.
And maybe the Great Pumpkin
To name just a few!
Her point being that Christmas, with its shopping sprees, flying reindeer, Merry Old Kris Kringle, illuminated trees, et al., is as much a secular holiday as a religious event and, therefore, giving federal employees the day off does not violate the First Amendment’s “establishment cause,” prohibiting the commingling of religion and government.
This week, in a Pennsylvania federal court, District Judge John E. Jones III ruled that it is unconstitutional to require schools to teach so-called “intelligent design” in science classes.
It is a ruling that should be celebrated. It is a victory for science. It is a victory for public education. And it is a victory for the principle of religious freedom.
By way of background, intelligent design (or ID) is a contrivance — it is biblical creationism masquerading as science. ID is being pushed by evangelical Christians who want to insinuate their brand of religion into our classrooms.
Since the Supreme Court has already ruled that banning the teaching of evolution is illegal, this is a back-door attempt to even the score by arguing the universe is so complex it can only be explained as the consequence of a supernatural guiding hand.
By that line of reckoning, anything we’re not smart enough to figure out can simply be written off as the province of the divine. Maybe so, but that’s not how science works.
In the Pennsylvania case, a group of parents sued to block the Dover Area School Board from requiring all ninth-graders be taught ID. While the case was being tried, the voters decided the case on their own, throwing the rascals on the school board out of office.
Judge Jones didn’t mince words. He called ID “illogical,” “flawed,” “a mere relabeling of creationism,” and he said he found it “ironic that several — who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID policy.”
Why should we be joyful about this decision?
If you care about science, you don’t want it muddied by this nonsense. (Anyone who doesn’t care about science, go ahead, show your conviction: throw away your meds, turn out the lights, start growing your own food — no preservatives, mind you — and for heaven’s sake boil your water once you figure out how to make fire.)
If you care about public education, you have to be relieved the court rejected an attempt to turn schools into tools of proselytization.
And if you care about freedom of religion, you should be especially cheery. The first Europeans to settle on our shores came here to escape religious tyranny. We mustn’t ignore this important lesson in our history.
Footnote: It is interesting that Judge Dlott, a Clinton appointee, preserved Christmas as a holiday while Jones, a Bush appointee, ruled against a cause célèbre of the religious right. Just goes to show that Lady Justice can operate blindfolded.