Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Judge Jones Wins Religious Liberty Award

Happy Darwin Day, everyone! As you may already know, February 12th is the birthday of Charles Robert Darwin. He was born in 1809 (coincidentally, on the same exact day as Abraham Lincoln), making this his 199th birthday. He published (after many years' hesitation) The Origin of Species in 1859, so next year will mark both the bicentennial of Darwin the man and the sesquicentennial (no relation to the sasquatch) of his most famous book.

To celebrate this august holiday, the American Humanist Association has awarded Judge John E. Jones III the Religious Liberty Award. For those of you who are not familiar with Jones's name, you may be surprised to find a secular organization lavishing praises on a man of faith who is a Republican judge appointed by George W. Bush. It all becomes clear when you learn that he presided over the trial of Dover v. Kitzmiller, which became a huge impediment for the Intelligent Design movement. It becomes clearer still when you read the brilliant decision he wrote after wading through copious evidence and weeks of testimony. Near the end, the decision reads:

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources. [emphasis mine]
If you want to learn more about the Dover trial and the people and issues involved, I heartily recommend the book Monkey Girl by Pulitzer Prize-winner Edward Humes. It is a book we read in the monthly book club at CFI Los Angeles. He frames the entire situation with a recap of the long-lived debate between science and the readers of Genesis, describes the school board meetings that led to the curriculum change, and sets the stage by introducing all the people we saw in the news coverage as well as the individuals and organizations who worked behind the scenes. It is a fascinating story, especially when you learn how abysmally little the school board members knew about the science of Evolution, or even the Intelligent Design they were so eager to replace it with! Again, from Jones's decision:
The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. 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.
The funniest anecdote comes from the last day of the trial (quoted from pg. 327 the hardback edition):
Pat Gillen, soon to return to Ann Arbor and the offices of Thomas More [the firm representing the school board], had one more question to ask: "By my reckoning, this is the fortieth day since the trial began, and tonight will be the fortieth night, and I would like to know if you did that on purpose?"
"Mr. Gillen," Judge Jones responded with a smile, as the courtroom erupted with laughter and applause, "that is an interesting coincidence, but it was not by design."
What a brilliant response! That really sums it all up, and I join the AHA in saluting Judge Jones for his work in the service of religious liberty. (Thanks to Greg for the link that led me to the AHA news.)

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