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Judge who ruled against intelligent design speaks at UVU

OREM ?— The United States District Court judge who presided over a landmark 2005 ruling stating that teaching intelligent design in public school is unconstitutional said the ruling was based on law, not personally philosophy Thursday.

"Any federal judge faced with the facts and the law would have made the same decision I did," Judge John E. Jones III told an audience at Utah Valley University. "They may have written it a different way, but they would have come to the same essential finding ... and that's because we build on the law and we have precedents that we follow. We don't rule according to personal philosophy. We don't rule to please those who appointed us."

Jones's ruling in the controversial Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case, sometimes referred to as the Scopes Trial Part II because it deals with the teaching of evolution in public schools, has made him the target of conservatives who labeled him an activist judge.

But he said he didn't hesitate to hand down the ruling because it was based on law and legal precedent, and not on his personal beliefs.

"Unfortunately most of our fellow citizens do not understand that and they assume that judges rule with abject bias," he said.

Jones was appointed to the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of Pennsylvania by Pres. George W. Bush in 2002.

The Kitzmiller case was the result of a challenge to the school district's mandate that science teachers read a statement offering intelligent design, which claims that certain life forms are so complex they must be the product of a designer, as an alternative to the theory of evolution.

"It really cuts the heart out of Darwin's theory and evolution as it is taught today and known by the scientific community," Jones said.

In his 139-page decision, Jones ruled that intelligent design is basically creationism, a religious belief which previous court rulings had determined could not be taught in schools without violating the Constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.

"The people promoting this were young-earth creationists and they were determined that they wanted to rip evolution out of the curriculum and get something that smacked of creationism into the classroom," Jones said. "They found exactly what they needed in intelligent design.

"They couldn't explain what intelligent design was, but what they thought they knew was that intelligent design was exactly what I said it was at the end of the trial — it is the successor, the progeny of creationism."

Jones said the ruling made him the target of death threats when it was issued.

"My wife couldn't walk the dog without a marshal next to her," he said.

Jones was speaking as part of UVU's Duane E. Jeffrey lecture series which has focused this year on evolution since 1809 was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his book, "On the Origin of Species."

"I wondered last year if we brought old Charles back years and years after his death, would he be surprised that we are having such a controversy still in the United State," Jones said. "I think the easy answer is that he would not be surprised, because he knew how controversial his findings were."

e-mail: mhaddock@desnews.com