If Dover's model of a divided community didn't discourage people who want to test the science behind intelligent design, the legal bill might.

Some involved in the Dover Area School District intelligent design debate said the school's $1 million legal bill will deter copycats who want to push the movement into science classes, but others said the movement will continue to thrive.

Nick Matzke, a spokesman for the National Center for Science Education, closely followed the federal civil suit filed against the former school board after it passed a policy to include intelligent design in science classes. His group consulted, at no charge, for the parents who filed the lawsuit.

He said school district attorneys pay close attention to numbers like "$1 million," and would likely advise school boards against fighting for intelligent design in court.

But that might not stop some school boards, he said.

Court records in Dover's case showed that the district's solicitor, Stephen Russell, recommended the board not pursue intelligent design.

"The real issues seem to be fundamentalist religion, and sometimes those people don't pay attention to the deterrents," Matzke said. "You can't always depend on people to be rational."

The school board voted at its Tuesday meeting to pay $1 million in legal fees for attorneys who successfully sued the district for requiring that intelligent design be mentioned as an alternative to evolution in ninth-grade biology classes.

The district -- its taxpayers -- must pay the fees because the judge ruled that the policy to require mentioning intelligent design was religiously motivated and violated the Constitution.

Legal fees for thousands of hours spent preparing the case for federal court totaled more than $2 million, but the Pepper Hamilton law firm, which had some attorneys representing the parents, agreed not to charge for those hours.

The legal fees include costs for attorneys and other workers from the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and.

Bill should be more: Richard Katskee, assistant legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, worked on the Dover parents' case.

"I don't know whether $1 million in legal fees is enough to deter a board determined to violate the Constitution," he said.

He said Dover's bill should have been more than $2 million, but attorneys cut the district a break because residents were "willing to clean (their) own house" by voting the former school board out of office.

"Any board thinking of trying to do what the Dover board did is going to have to look for a bill in excess of $2 million," he said.

"I think $2 million is a lot to explain to taxpayers for a lawsuit that should never be fought," he said.

The Dover board didn't only lose, it "so thoroughly lost," Katskee said.

The judge's decision harshly criticized the former school board members.

ID proponents' views: On the other side of the debate, those in favor of intelligent design had varied opinions on the legal fees' impact.

Jon Buell, president of the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, which publishes an intelligent design book referenced in Dover's ousted policy, said the big legal bill could scare people away from trying to insert intelligent design in science classes.

"I think school boards across the country wouldn't touch this, wouldn't try to do something similar (to Dover) for the life of them," he said.

He said his organization is moving its resources into an endeavor different from intelligent design, though he would not name it.

But Richard Thompson, chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian law firm that defended the school board free of charge, said he doesn't think the intelligent design movement will be squelched.

More discussion than ever: "The genie is already out of the bag," he said. "There is more discussion about intelligent design now than there ever has been."

He said the science behind intelligent design, not the courts, will determine if intelligent design is a viable science.

He said private schools are using the judge's decision in the case to draw students from the public school system. 

"More and more people are talking about it," he said. "I applaud the courage of the past board for standing up for what they believed in. They thought they were doing what was in the best interest of the people."

But the largest organization that supports intelligent design research, Seattle-based Discovery Institute, didn't support Dover's board.

"What this shows is that the Dover board should have listened to the Discovery Institute when we told them to repeal this policy before they were sued," said John West, associate director of the Institute's Center for Science & Culture.

He said the current board, which took office shortly before the judge's decision was released, should have repealed the former board's policy before the judge issued his decision; that might have made the case moot and could have given the school district reason to fight against paying the legal fees, he said.

The board repealed the policy after the judge ordered it to do so.

About the intelligent design suit
Eleven parents filed a federal lawsuit against the Dover Area School District and its school board in December 2004, about two months after the board voted to include a statement about intelligent design in its ninth-grade biology classes.

Intelligent design says living things are so complicated they had to have been created by a higher being, that life is too complex to have developed by the method described by biologist Charles Darwin.

The parents, along with the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the board had religious motives for putting the policy in place.

The non-jury trial started Sept. 26 and was completed Nov. 4.

On Dec. 20, U.S. Middle District Judge John E. Jones III ruled against the former school board, issuing a scathing, 139-page ruling that accused some former board members of lying in the witness stand.

A week after the end of the trial, Dover Area voters ousted seven of the eight incumbent school board members, all of whom favored requiring that intelligent design be mentioned in science class as an alternative to evolution.

The newly elected board members, candidates from the citizens group Dover CARES (Citizens Actively Reviewing Educational Strategies), are opposed to mentioning intelligent design in science classes.

Dover CARES candidates ran on a platform of teaching intelligent design in an elective course, not a required class, if it is to be mentioned in school.
-- Reach Christina Kauff man at 505-5434 or ckauf fman@yorkdispatch.com.