On Dec. 20, federal Judge John E. Jones III gave a Christmas present to everyone involved with the controversy over "Intelligent Design" (ID).
That day, Jones issued a ruling prohibiting York County's Dover School District from teaching ID as an alternative to evolution. The ruling vindicated those who saw ID, which proposes that species of life are created by a mysterious "Designer," as a backdoor attempt to teach religious creationism. But it gave fundamentalist Christians on the other side something nice, too: an excuse to feel persecuted.
Though he was appointed by George W. Bush, Jones showed a thorough understanding of the rules of science, and of the fundamentalists who oppose them. His 139-page ruling was enough to make you take back everything you've said about Bush's judicial appointees -- whether you voted for Bush or not.
In the trial and in Jones' ruling, there was ample evidence to show how intellectually bankrupt ID is. But as the ruling made clear, the best case against ID was made by its supporters -- by the behavior of the school-board members who demanded it be taught.
ID supporters, ranging from Bush and Sen. Rick Santorum on down, have insisted that they merely want schools to teach "both sides of the evolution controversy." But even if you ignore the fact that no real controversy exists among scientists, the Dover School Board had no interest in teaching it honestly anyway.
Jones' ruling cited an "astonishing story" in which one pro-ID board member, William Buckingham, ordered that a mural depicting the evolutionary process be torn from a classroom wall. When asked what happened to the mural, a witness testified, Buckingham said, "I gleefully watched it burn." Later, he announced that the district would buy needed textbooks if teachers promised not to put up any more visual aids teaching evolution.
This, it seems, is how ID's proponents teach "both sides of a controversy."
During sworn depositions, the judge alleged, Buckingham and another board member concealed another key fact: The district's pro-ID textbook, Of Pandas and People, had been purchased for the school by Buckingham's church. "[T]he inescapable truth is that [the board members] lied...about their knowledge of the source of the donation for Pandas....This mendacity was a clear and deliberate attempt to hide the source of the donations."
Such strong language is unusual in a court ruling; according to the Harrisburg Patriot-News, it has prompted U.S. Attorney Thomas A. Marino to investigate charging some board members with perjury. Perhaps the next time ID backers want to teach Christian beliefs in public schools, they should take a refresher course themselves. They could read the Ten Commandments and its injunction against bearing false witness, just for starters.
Meanwhile, in a bid for survival Darwin himself would appreciate, the school board's backers are fleeing the scene. Santorum has praised both ID and the Dover school board. But since Jones' ruling, he has announced that he is apparently shocked, shocked by the board's behavior. It's the sort of flip-flop that would make John Kerry, or the apostle Peter, blush.
Christian fundamentalism is full of such latter-day Elmer Gantrys -- people who lie while claiming to seek the truth, who practice betrayal in the service of faith. The ID case is a perfect example, as is the fictitious "war on Christmas": Christians try to jam their holidays down the throats of others -- and when those others resist, the Christians pretend they are the victims.
Which is how they have to feel. The Christian Right believes deeply in an approaching Apocalypse, during which the faithful are supposed to be persecuted, victimized by an oppressive society. The fact that they currently run the U.S. government, then, puts them in a bit of a theological quandary. It means either their prophecy has gone astray, or they have.
Luckily, they'll always have the "culture wars," with their promise of second-rate, third-hand martyrdom. They can always feel oppressed by store clerks who don't say "Merry Christmas," or by a new Judas like Judge Jones. Now they have a new excuse for ignoring their own sins, while decrying the sinful, sinful world.
And just in time for the holidays.