The school board of Dover, Pennsylvania, held its first meeting Monday night since eight of its pro-Intelligent Design members were voted out and since TV evangelist Pat Robertson warned the town they were on God’s shit list. In their final act before stepping down, members of the lame-duck board rejected a motion to revoke their Intelligent Design policy, a policy that has led to a lawsuit, a trial and a year of media scrutiny of this quiet, rural town.
Perhaps the most outrageous insight into the case came from Robertson. Last week, he responded to election results that saw victory for a slate of candidates critical of the board’s move to offer Intelligent Design, a religion-friendly theory of creation, as an alternative to evolution. Cautioned Robertson, “I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God, you just rejected him from your city. And don’t wonder why he hasn’t helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I’m not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city.”
At Monday’s meeting – held in the Dover elementary school’s cafeteria, decorated with banners reminding students to “take responsibility for your own spills” and to “be a buddy, not a bully”— most people laughed off Robertson’s remarks.
“What he said was extremely irresponsible, but you have to consider the source,” said Judy McIlvaine, one of the eight recently elected board members, whose tenure will begin next month. “I think our community is sensible enough not to take him too seriously.”
Seventeen-year-old Meghan Hilbert, a junior at Dover High School and one of two student representatives to the board, said Robertson’s remarks pissed her off.
“I think it’s morally wrong for him to say when God’s going to help someone and when he’s not.”
“I don’t believe anything he says,” she added. “He owes Dover a big apology, especially our churches.”
Ron Short, one of the ousted board members, said he had “no comment” when asked whether Robertson’s words offended him.
The meeting largely steered away from the Intelligent Design controversy. Board members spent nearly an hour listening to proposals for replacing outdated air conditioning units, a reminder that minus talk of monkeys and God, school board meetings are often a tedious study of the minutia involved in running a school.
The topic of Intelligent Design wasn’t raised until the very end of the meeting, when David Napiersky, another of the ousted board members, proposed dropping the school’s policy on it. In light of last week’s election, he said, “it would be good of us to recognize the voters have spoken and now we can serve them by not wasting anymore resources on the lawsuit.”
In October 2004, Dover became the first school district in the nation to promote Intelligent Design as a viable alternative to Darwin’s theory of Evolution. A one-minute statement was added to the science curriculum to be read aloud to students. It pointed out “gaps” in the theory of evolution and suggested that students consider alternatives such as Intelligent Design. Widely rejected by scientists, the theory of Intelligent Design holds that humans are too complex to have simply evolved from monkeys, and therefore a designer of some sort must have been responsible. The theory is widely embraced by Christian evangelicals and widely rejected by the science establishment.
At least 20 states, including New York, are considering legislation that would add Intelligent Design to science curriculums. President Bush has said he supports teaching it side by side with evolution.
Nobody at tonight’s meeting seconded Napiersky’s motion, and the board president, Sheila Harkins, pronounced it dead.
After the meeting Napiersky said that though he continues to support the idea of teaching Intelligent Design in schools, it didn’t “serve the public interest to continue this debate” since the new school board was opposed to the policy and would likely act to revoke it fairly quickly.
“I know that some of the other board members are very personally attached to [the issue], but why continue trying to defend it?” Napiersky said. “We can’t defend it. It’s gone.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 8, 2005