Intelligent Desigh: Meetings were like revivals


HARRISBURG -- The meeting reminded Carol "Casey" Brown of the traveling tent revivals that used to set up at the York Fairgrounds.

But it was a meeting of the Dover Area school board in June 2004, the former school board member said in court yesterday.

And behind the microphone, instead of a traveling preacher, was Charlotte Buckingham, school board member William Buckingham's wife.

Charlotte Buckingham quoted scripture from the Old Testament and said the district students would be cheated if they couldn't learn about biblical creation.

She told people how to accept Jesus Christ as their "personal savior," Brown said.

Alan Bonsell, board president at the time, allowed Buckingham to continue for about 15 minutes, three times the length of public comment permitted at the board's meetings, Brown testified.

As she sat there listening, she heard muttered amens coming from her fellow board members sitting at the table around her. She wasn't sure who, exactly. She heard the whispered affirmations rising up from both sides of her, she testified.

These were people she had once considered her friends.

Sensed own departure: But the spring school board meetings were the beginning of
what Brown sensed was her inevitable departure from the board on which she had served for a decade, she said.

She said she felt things were getting out of control. She and her husband were afraid someone was going to get into trouble, she testified.

In mid-October 2004, she and her husband, Jeff Brown, resigned from the board.

The couple testified yesterday on behalf of 11 parents who filed suit against the district and its school board, claiming the school board members were religiously motivated when they voted to include a statement about intelligent design in high school biology classes.

Parent Frederick Callahan, a plaintiff in the suit, also testified as attorneys from the ACLU and Pepper Hamilton LLC continued to make the parents' case in U.S. Middle District Court in Harrisburg.

Jeff and Casey Brown testified that board member Alan Bonsell and the district's supervisor of buildings and grounds were offended by a senior art project that had been hung on the walls of the high school's science wing.

The large mural, a series of plywood sheets painted to depict an ape ascending into a man, had to be removed when the high school was undergoing renovations.

Jeff Brown testified that upon seeing the work that a student donated to the school, Bonsell began "snorting through his nostrils" and said students should not be exposed to the work because "this is not where we came from."

Casey Brown said the supervisor of buildings and grounds later burned the work because he didn't want his granddaughter, who was going to be entering the high school, to see it. Casey Brown's testimony started from memories of a 2002 board retreat when Bonsell, who had been on the board for three months, said he was "concerned with the state of morality" and that prayer and faith should be reintroduced to schools.

She testified that Bonsell told board members he wanted "fair and balanced" treatment of creationism alongside the theory of evolution.

Adoption postponed: That school year, the school district had to put off buying biology textbooks because of a tight budget. The books were already so outdated that they weren't compatible with the curriculum, Casey Brown said.

But when the school board set out to buy the books for the next school year, William Buckingham spurred a movement against the textbooks because they were "laced with Darwinism," Casey Brown testified.

Board members made several "inappropriate" comments at June 2004 meetings, ranging from comments about taking a "stand" for someone who died on a cross to arguing that the separation of church and state is a myth, Casey and Jeff Brown testified.

Jeff Brown testified that when he expressed doubt about the board's apparent religious agenda, William Buckingham accused him of cowardice and said that if Jeff Brown had fought in the American Revolution, "we would still have a queen."

By the last week of July 2004, the board was divided, and William Buckingham had begun rallying for the intelligent design book "Of Pandas and People."

At the next board meeting, William Buckingham told his opposing board members that he and his political allies would vote for the biology textbook if they could also buy the "Pandas" book, Casey Brown said.

But William Buckingham's opponents found enough votes to buy only the biology textbook.

Push for 'Pandas': A frustrated William Buckingham started to collect donations to buy the "Pandas" books, Jeff Brown said.

Forgoing much of the board's typical protocol for policy adoption, William Buckingham and his supporters rushed the book's approval for an Oct. 18 meeting, Jeff Brown testified.

"I felt that we were being way too hasty," he said.

After a contentious discussion leading up to the vote that night, Jeff and Casey Brown, along with board member Noel Wenrich, voted against adopting the policy to read a statement about intelligent design and refer to the "Pandas" books. The policy passed 6-3.

Disappointed with the board's decision and fearful of an impending First Amendment lawsuit, Jeff and Casey Brown announced their resignations immediately after the vote.

Casey Brown said that Bonsell called her an atheist and that William Buckingham told her she was "going to hell."

In her resignation letter, Casey Brown said two of her fellow board members -- William Buckingham and former board member Jane Cleaver -- had asked her if she was "born again."

On cross-examination, school board attorney Patrick Gillen set out to debunk the relevancy of the questions because they weren't asked at board functions and the board members were her friends.

Casey Brown testified that the questions were posed during a visit to Cleaver's house and a ride home from a school board meeting in William Buckingham's car.

-- Reach Christina Kauffman at 505-5434 or