Philadelphia Inquirer | 12/22/2005 | Santorum now critical of Dover case: "Posted on Thu, Dec. 22, 2005
Santorum now critical of Dover caseHe denies he is contradicting earlier statements of support for the cause.By Carrie Budoff and Paul NussbaumInquirer Staff WritersEarly this year, Sen. Rick Santorum commended the Dover Area School District for "attempting to teach the controversy of evolution."
But one day after a federal judge ruled that the district's policy on intelligent design was unconstitutional, Santorum said he was troubled by court testimony that showed some board members were motivated by religion in adopting the policy.
And, he said in an interview, he disagreed with the board for mandating the teaching of intelligent design, rather than just the controversy surrounding evolution.
Santorum - who sits on the advisory board of the Thomas More Law Center, which defended the school board in court - said the case offered "a bad set of facts" to test the concept that theories other than evolution should be taught in science classrooms.
"I thought the Thomas More Law Center made a huge mistake in taking this case and in pushing this case to the extent they did," Santorum said.
He said he intends to withdraw his affiliation with the Michigan-based public-interest law firm that promotes Christian values.
Robert Thompson, chief counsel for the law center, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Santorum would not comment on the ruling itself, saying that he had yet to fully review it.
The case highlighted Santorum's high-profile role in the debate over teaching evolution. He never entered the Harrisburg courtroom where the six-week trial took place, but his actions - most notably, an effort in 2001 to insert a "teach the controversy" amendment into a landmark education bill - figured prominently into the case.
It also has become a political issue for Santorum as he faces a tough reelection in 2006. His leading Democratic challenger, state Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr., has seized upon the senator's seemingly contradictory statements on intelligent design to portray him as a "flip flopper" who puts an ideological agenda above other interests.
In a 2002 Washington Times op-ed, Santorum wrote: "Therefore, intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in science classes."
But in recent interviews, including one in August on National Public Radio, Santorum said: "I'm not comfortable with intelligent design being taught in the science classroom."
The Casey campaign and the state Democratic Party accused Santorum yesterday of backtracking in an election year on intelligent design, which holds that life is so complex that its creation must be attributed to a higher power.
It "is yet another example of 'Election Year Rick' changing his positions for political expediency," said Larry Smar, Casey's spokesman. "Santorum has spent more time in the Senate pursuing the politics of division rather than focusing on Pennsylvania priorities like health care, the economy, and jobs."
Santorum said his statements are not contradictory, nor has his position changed.
His 2002 op-ed dealt with academic freedom and argued that dissenting theories to evolution shouldn't be repressed. He said he meant that teachers should have the flexibility - but not be required - to mention intelligent design as part of the evolution debate, a position he continues to hold.
"Making sure there is academic freedom in the classroom, to bring in other points of views, is something my constituents and parents care a lot about," Santorum said. "It is not pursuing an ideological agenda."
Casey, who faces a Democratic primary challenge from Bucks County professor Chuck Pennacchio and Philadelphia lawyer Alan Sandals, says he believes that science should be taught in the science classroom, Smar said. "But if you want to talk about intelligent design, do it in religious class or church or home."
Santorum raised the national profile of intelligent design in 2001 by introducing a "teach the controversy" amendment to the No Child Left Behind bill.
The Santorum amendment was approved, 91-8, by the Senate and placed in a legislative history report. It validated the push by some school districts to teach alternatives to evolution. But science groups attacked the amendment and lobbied successfully to keep it out of the final version of the legislation.
The amendment, written with the help of Phillip Johnson, an intelligent-design pioneer and a retired law professor at the University of California-Berkeley, stated that "a quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science.
"Where topics are taught that may generate controversy [such as biological evolution], the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society."
During the intelligent design trial, there had been repeated references to the "Santorum amendment" and a Dover school board newsletter highlighting the senator's support. Santorum had expressed his support in an op-ed article published in January in the Allentown Morning Call.
The Dover policy, adopted in October 2004, required teachers to read a four-paragraph statement to ninth-grade biology students pointing out "gaps" in Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and directing them to a book on intelligent design in the school library.
Lawyers for the 11 parents who sued the district contended that the board was motivated by religion.
During the trial, a board member belatedly disclosed that the purchase of the book - Of Pandas and People - was funded by a local church, which gave the school $850 in donations.
Judge John E. Jones 3d, in his ruling Tuesday, rebuked the board. He said two members "tried to hide the source of the donations," and he did not find them credible when they denied making comments at a public hearing that showed they were motivated to adopt the policy for religious, not educational, reasons.
Santorum said he agreed with this aspect of the ruling, saying that religion should not be the motivating factor behind the teaching the controversy surrounding evolution. He continues to believe that intelligent design, like evolution, is a legitimate scientific theory, said his spokesman, Robert L. Traynham.
Rick Santorum on Intelligent Design
"Therefore, intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in science classes."
- 2002 Washington Times op-ed article"