Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District

Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District involved a policy under which “students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design.” Pursuant to the policy, the school district drafted a disclaimer that teachers were required to read in class prior to teaching evolution. The disclaimer stated that the school only taught evolution because it was mandated by the state, and that Intelligent Design (ID) is an alternative explanation of the origins of life that differs from evolution. Further, the disclaimer provided that if students were interested in ID, the school could provide a reference book on the subject. Parents and teachers sued the district, arguing that the disclaimer impermissibly promoted religion in violation of the Establishment Clause. The district contended that ID is not a religious theory; it is a theory independent of creationism that does not specifically promote God as the creator, though it does provide that some unidentified force created humankind. The Pennsylvania District Court disagreed and found that the district’s policy impermissibly advanced religion. First, the court applied the Endorsement Test, which asks whether government action conveys a message of endorsement or disapproval to a reasonable, objective observer. The court surveyed the history of ID and creationism and found the content of both theories so similar that an objective adult or student in the Dover school system would perceive the district’s promotion of ID to be overtly religious. Further, the court found that since ID is basically the theory of creationism under different terms, it was not a science, but a religious belief. Thus, the policy failed the Endorsement Test. Next, the court applied the test developed in Lemon v. Kurtzman, which asks whether the purpose and effect of government action is to advance religion. The court found numerous instances in which individuals indicated that the purpose of the policy was to explicitly advance religion; the superintendent of the board and its members had repeatedly discussed ways to teach creationism, and the board contacted certain proponents of creationism who ultimately suggested ID as a viable alternative. Regarding the effect of the policy, since the court already concluded that ID was not a science but a religious belief, the only possible effect of the disclaimer could be to advance that religious belief. Because the disclaimer policy failed both the Endorsement Test and the Lemon test, the court concluded the policy violated the Establishment Clause.