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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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'Not science': Judge John E. Jones

Lutheran tells about his history-making, intelligent design decision

When Judge John E. Jones III was invested as a U.S. District Court judge in August 2002, he “could never have imagined,” he said recently, that within four years he would appear on the cover of Time and rub shoulders at a black-tie dinner this year with others “judged” as the 100 most influential people of his time.

Carl Sander Socolow<BR><BR>Judge John
Judge John E. Jones III says his ruling in the Dover, Pa., school-board case that intelligent design is creationism repackaged—not science­­— “had nothing to do with politics and polls” and “everything to do with ... evidence ... and precedents ....”
Jones, a member of Trinity Lutheran Church, Pottsville, Pa., said fame wasn’t his objective when President George W. Bush appointed him to the court in Pennsylvania’s Middle District. But he acknowledged that “judges like to decide important cases.” He is comfortable, he added, with his new notoriety “because I’m entirely confident that I handled the case well. I worked hard. I’m deeply satisfied that I carried out my duties the way I’m supposed to.”

The case? That would be Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, in which parents in Dover, Pa., took the school board to court over an attempt to make intelligent design part of the science curriculum.

During six weeks in September and October last year, Jones heard wide-ranging testimony featuring legal precedence introduced from dozens of court cases, including from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Then Jones wrote a 139-page decision that made broadcast headlines within 15 minutes of release at 10:30 a.m. on Dec. 20. He concluded from the evidence that intelligent design is creationism repackaged—not science. Making it part of a public school science curriculum would be a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s establishment clause, which bars an alliance between church and state.

Some critics thought Jones went too far in ruling on whether intelligent design is science or not. “Both sides asked me to render a decision on that precise issue,” he said. “Had I not done so, there was every chance that this same issue would have arisen before another tribunal.

“I didn’t think a school district somewhere else should be exposed to the costs and fees that the Dover School District ended up paying (more than $1 million) as a result of my ducking that issue.”


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