Reporters Can Keep Notes and E-mails in ‘Creationism’ Trial

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Two newspaper reporters who wrote that school board members discussed creationism during public meetings may be questioned by lawyers for a school district that has been sued over its “intelligent design” teaching requirement, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

Judge John E. Jones III ruled that lawyers for the Dover Area School District board can interview the reporters but cannot have access to one reporter’s notes and another’s emails pertaining to two school board meetings in June 2004.

Lawyers representing the school board had sought the materials, contending the reporters’ stories were false and biased against the school board. However, Jones, who privately reviewed the documents, said the emails were not important to the case and the notes did not reveal bias against the school district.

At issue is the theory of intelligent design, which holds that the universe is so complex, it must have been created by some kind of guiding force.

The school district is believed to be the first in the United States to require that students be told about intelligent design during biology lessons on evolution when the board adopted changes to the science curriculum in October.

The school board destroyed the taped recordings of the meetings.

The Thomas More Law Center, which is defending the school board, sought to depose the reporters in case the plaintiffs call them as witnesses.

The York Dispatch and the York Daily Record/Sunday News had sought to block having their reporters deposed, saying the plaintiffs could simply interview other witnesses to the school board meetings.

The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of eight families living in the district, contends that the teaching of intelligent design in public schools violates the separation of church and state.

The plaintiffs say that intelligent design is simply a variation of creationism, a Biblical-based view that credits the origin of species to God. Supporters say it is a way to balance the theory of evolution with competing theories that question its scientific validity.

The ruling satisfied the Thomas More Law Center.

“We have an opportunity to depose the reporters like any other witness and that’s what the system is all about: Fairness,” said Richard Thompson, the law center’s chief counsel.

Witold Walczak, the ACLU attorney representing the plaintiffs, said that if he calls the reporters to testify, he will ask them to vouch for the accuracy of their stories, in which board members discussed a creationism textbook.

Since the board destroyed the audiotapes and board members have denied discussing creationism, the newspaper stories are the best evidence to show that board members had a “religious intent” in mandating intelligent design, Walczak said.

The newspapers’ lawyer did not immediately return telephone calls.

A trial is scheduled for Sept. 26.

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