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10 years after intelligent design, plaintiff family leaving Dover


Two white labradoodles are often prancing around the front yard of Bryan and Christy Rehm's Dover Township home.

The property is filled with gardens full of ripe blackberries, grapevines and strawberries that they both tend.

Bryan, in spite of an allergy, has developed a fondness for beekeeping and regularly jars his own honey from the hives he's nurtured in the backyard.

Inside the house is Christy's library, shelves overflowing with books of all different shapes and sizes; the walls are filled with pictures of the family and awards the Rehms have earned over the years.

Among the recognitions is a pair of matching frames with identical certificates that honor the husband and wife as "Friends of Darwin" for serving as plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.

But as the family of six marks the 10-year anniversary of the precedent-setting trial, the Rehms have decided to close that chapter in their lives — by hopefully moving out of their book-filled, buzzing-bee home in the district that seemed to define a period of their lives.

They haven't chosen a destination, but they know they're leaving.

Looking back: The Rehms were among several concerned parents who took the landmark science-in-education case to federal court and successfully challenged school board members who, a judge ruled, had religious motives for trying to push the Christianity-based "intelligent design" as a viable scientific alternative to evolution.

Bryan was a new science teacher in Dover when creationism first surfaced.

"I actually laughed," he said. "When I heard that, I thought there was an inside joke I didn't get."

That was in 2002. As time passed, Bryan found himself laughing less.

The dialogue began to take on a more aggressive tone and shifted from creationism to the exceptionally similar concept of intelligent design.

He decided to run for the district's school board to fight the teaching of intelligent design as a scientific alternative to evolution. The issue finally came to a head over a discussion of textbooks — just as the Rehms' oldest daughter was about to enter ninth grade.

"They were worried about teaching only evolution. Meanwhile, I was a physics teacher and I was teaching the big bang theory," Bryan said. "I knew it was time for me to make an exit.

"In 2004, they enacted changes (in curriculum) without teacher consent and canceled public comment at the meetings. As soon as they did that, I pulled out my phone and called the ACLU and told them to add my name to the list of plaintiffs," he said.

Christy, who joined her husband as a plaintiff a little further down the line, was working on her doctorate and very pregnant when Bryan quit his job.

"He would come home and just be a mess," she said. "He was always saying he was going to quit, and this was just always an issue for him. All we wanted to do was fix things."

Ten years later: Bryan has since gotten another teaching job outside of the county, and Christy last year was named the Pennsylvania School Boards Association Teacher of the Year.

"I've always felt comfortable here," Bryan said of his current teaching job. "Not having an employing body that doesn't completely go against your training always helps."

Nearly four years ago, Christy was voted onto Dover's school board, shortly after her husband was voted out.

"They hated him. I never thought I would win," she said, adding that she is often outvoted anyway. "There's a large number of issues that just somehow morph into something else because of our role in the trial. People just don't separate the issue, and all they know is that they don't like us."

Though it's been a decade since the Rehms and other plaintiffs won their case against a school district that wanted to teach religion, they said some people in the community have failed to move past that defeat.

Ten years later, the board continues to make decisions the Rehms question, such as hosting last year's high school graduation in a Catholic church.

The Rehms were on vacation when it went to a vote, but "had I been there, I would have been the only dissenting vote," Christy said.

Leaving: "It just never goes away," Christy said of the negativity that has followed her family since the trial. "We have proof it never goes away. We still feel it. We have neighbors that aren't so friendly with us."

In addition to calling them "heathens" behind their backs, their neighbors have taken several steps to make things difficult for the Rehms, they said.

In July, they received a certified letter from the township forcing them to get rid of their chickens because of complaints from their neighbors. They've also received complaints about a vintage Volkswagen van, parked in their driveway, that Bryan hopes to repair. They worry their bees may be next.

Religious literature also regularly fills their mailbox, they said.

"They didn't even want their kids to play outside when our kids were outside," Christy said. "It's just something we can never get away from. It's been difficult, and our family has borne a lot of the brunt."

Now that their second daughter has graduated, Christy's term on the school board is about to expire, and they've pulled their two younger children from the district the family intends to leave, as many have before them.

"We've given so much time, effort and energy to this district," Christy said. "A lot of people — a lot of our friends — have walked away, and we're still here. People just don't stay here."

She said it would be refreshing to be in a community that rallies together, where people support each other.

"They really haven't been able to make that happen here," she said. "We've been here for 13-plus years, so we really don't see it happening here."