WALCZAK JARBOE
Carolyn Kaster  /  AP
Wotold Walczak, legal director for the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, stands at the podium Tuesday during a news conference at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., to announce the filing of a federal lawsuit over science education. An opponent of the suit, Carl J. Jarboe, holds a protest sign behind Walczak.
updated 12/14/2004 4:43:16 PM ET 2004-12-14T21:43:16

Eight families have sued a school district that is requiring students to learn about alternatives to the theory of evolution, claiming the curriculum violates the separation of church and state.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State said the lawsuit was the first to challenge whether public schools should teach “intelligent design,” which holds that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by some higher power. The two organizations are representing the parents in the federal lawsuit.

The Dover Area School District voted 6-3 on Oct. 18 to include intelligent design in the ninth-grade science curriculum, in what is believed to be the first such requirement in the country.

The ACLU contends that intelligent design is a more secular form of creationism — a Bible-based view that credits the origin of species to God — and may violate the constitutional separation of church and state.

One of the parents bringing suit, Tammy Kitzmiller, expressed concern that the school board would mandate the teaching of “something that isn’t accepted as science.” Kitzmiller has two children who attend Dover High School, where teachers of ninth-grade biology are expected to discuss evolution sometime next month.

School officials had no immediate comment on the lawsuit.

At least one other district has recently become embroiled in federal litigation over teaching evolution. A federal judge in Georgia is considering the constitutionality of a suburban Atlanta district’s decision to include a warning sticker about evolution in biology textbooks.

Two of the three dissenting board members have resigned in protest. Angie Yingling, a board member who originally supported the policy, said she later reconsidered her vote.

“Anyone with half a brain should have known we were going to be sued,” she said. “You can’t do this.”

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