The closely watched case was a key battle in an ideological war waged by Christian activists against Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection.
Despite claims it is a religious theory not rooted in fact, advocates had hoped to introduce intelligent design into schools across the US District Court Judge John Jones lashed out at the “breathtaking inanity” of the governing school board in the town of Dover which backed the concept that nature is so complex it must be the work of a superior being.
“Our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom,” he said.
The 139-page ruling found that teaching intelligent design violated the “establishment clause” of the First Amendment to the Constitution, which bars a state-mandated religion.
ID not science
“In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not,” he said.
The court found that the concept was an offshoot of creationism, which the Supreme Court has already ruled cannot be forced into schools.
Judge Jones said the board had thrust an “untestable alternative hypothesis” to evolution into the classroom.
“It is ironic that several of these individuals, 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.”
Voters ousted eight members of the schoolboard in November, prompting famed television evangelist Pat Robertson to warn they had rejected God.
“If there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God,” Robertson said on his 700 Club show.
Opponents of intelligent design described the ruling as “wonderful.”
“This is a very important decision, Judge Jones has reaffirmed that in this country, public servants shall not use their public office to impose their religious views on others,” said Stephen Harvey of law firm Pepper Hamilton.
Plantiff Tammy Kitzmiller, a parent who brought the case, said “intelligent design is not science. Intelligent design is about religion.”
But supporters of the theory vowed to fight on. “Anyone who thinks a court ruling is going to kill off interest in intelligent design is living in another world,” said John West, of the Discovery Institute think tank, which advocates intelligent design.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan did not criticise the ruling, but said President George W Bush, who draws strong backing from Christian conservatives, believed such decisions were up to school districts.
“The president has also said that he believes students ought to be exposed to different theories and ideas so that they can fully understand what the debate is about.”
The ruling was the latest in a flurry of court judgments on the role of religion in US society, which has seen Supreme Court justices rule on the proper use of the Ten Commandments on state property.
The case has drawn comparisons to the Scopes trial of 1925, in which a biology teacher was convicted of violating Tennessee law by teaching evolution, a precedent-setting case on the role of the Bible in US public life.
In an October 2004 vote, the Dover School Board required teachers to read pupils a statement stating that Darwin’s “theory of evolution” was not a “fact” and contained “gaps.”
Students were also to be informed about an intelligent design textbook called “Of Pandas and People.”
Judge Jones accurately predicted the reaction of intelligent design advocates, in this politically sensitive case.
“Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred.”
Discovery’s West hit back: “this is an activist judge who has delusions of grandeur.”