The campaign began with a public presentation held on December 10, 2003, in the junior high school gymnasium. The Reverend Curtis Brickley conducted what was described as "a two-hour, high-tech presentation on "intelligent design'," and called on the Darby School Board to include "intelligent design" in the science curriculum. Two members of the school board, Gina Schallenberger and Doug Banks, were receptive to the proposal. But not all of those attending the meeting were impressed. John Schneeberger, the coordinator of the Bitterroot Human Rights Alliance, commented, "It's fairly apparent that 'intelligent design' points directly to God as a creator and that doesn't have any place in a science class" (Ravalli Republic 2003 Dec 12).
Brickley hoped to present his "intelligent design" proposal to the school board at its next regular meeting on January 5, 2004. Speaking to the weekly Missoula Independent (2003 Dec 25), Brickley was unwilling to provide details, although he was careful to say that he was not calling for evolution to be omitted from the curriculum. "They need to teach evolution more critically," he said, "and teach evidence that challenges the neo-Darwinian theory." By teaching "intelligent design" alongside evolution, he said, the Darby schools would thereby "teach origin science more objectively."
Meanwhile, a group of residents in Darby and surrounding communities who opposed Brickley's proposal organized Ravalli County Citizens for Science. Rod Miner of RCCS told the weekly Missoula Independent (2003 Dec 25) that the proposal "is a politically and religiously motivated action that seeks to place a religious agenda ahead of the interests of students" and warned of the possibility of a lawsuit if the Darby School Board adopted it. The school board accordingly deferred considering Brickley's proposal until it heard from "the other side" (Ravalli Republic 2004 Jan 7).
On January 21, 2004, in the junior high school gymnasium, Ravalli County Citizens for Science conducted its own presentation, attended by over 200 people. Speaking were Jay Evans, a local molecular and cellular biologist, NCSE's post-doctoral scholar Alan Gishlick, and Karen Hedges, a Darby science teacher. Hedges explained, "If we are not teaching evolution as the best explanation of what we see here, we are shortchanging our students when it comes to moving on to higher education and standardized testing" (Ravalli Republic 2004 Jan 23). Another teacher, Trevor Laboski from nearby Corvallis, added that science teachers already discuss the social controversy surrounding evolution when students broach the topic, assuring the audience, "We're sensitive to the community that we teach in and the religious culture that exists."
School board actionsThe school board met to consider the policy on January 26. The meeting was attended not only by Darby residents but also by people from Hamilton, Victor, and even Missoula, about 60 miles away. Speaking first was Brickley, whose proposed "objective origins policy" would encourage teachers in Darby's schools to "help students assess evidence for and against theories, to analyze scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories, including the theory of evolution, by giving examples of scientific innovation or discovery challenging commonly held perceptions." The purpose of the policy was not, he said, to add creationism to the curriculum; what he sought, he said, was "a qualified and responsible criticism of Darwinian evolution" (The Missoulian 2004 Jan 27). Responding, Rod Miner of RCCS described "intelligent design" as having "no legitimacy in scientific theory" and argued that Darby's schoolchildren "need more science, not less".
Judging from the public comment period of the meeting, the "objective origins" policy was popular: a reporter from the Ravalli Republic (2004 Jan 28) estimated that its supporters outnumbered its opponents by two to one. (According to Dixie Stark of RCCS, however, the numbers were about equal if nonlocal speakers were not counted.) But it was not so popular among the school board's legal advisors. Letters from Deputy Ravalli County Attorney James McCubbin and Montana School Boards Association attorney Elizabeth Kaleva strongly cautioned the district not to change the curriculum in a way unapproved by the state. "Failure to meet state standards for your curriculum could result in loss of accreditation for the Darby schools," McCubbin wrote. "This, in turn, could result in litigation and/or make the Darby schools ineligible to receive state and/or federal funding. Thus, it is absolutely imperative that your curriculum continue to meet those state standards" (The Missoulian 2004 Jan 27).
The meeting adjourned until January 28. Michael Moore, a reporter from The Missoulian, managed to interview Brickley on the intervening day. "In hindsight," Moore wrote (2004 Jan 28), "Curtis Brickley thinks he shouldn't have presented the case for teaching 'intelligent-design' theory at Darby High School when he argued for changing the school's science curriculum in early December." Brickley told Moore, "I don't think that 'objective origins' and 'intelligent design' are one [and] the same," adding, "I just want us to look at evolution critically, at the evidence for it and the evidence against it. I think the policy is quite modest."
In his article, Moore also discussed the Discovery Institute, whose Center for Science and Culture serves as the institutional home of "intelligent design". Like Brickley, the Discovery Institute is increasingly disavowing any desire to have "intelligent design" taught in the public schools and concentrating instead on "teaching the controversy" (for a critical discussion of the slogan, see Eugenie C Scott and Glenn Branch, "Evolution: What's wrong with 'teaching the controversy'" Trends in Ecology and Evolution 2003; 18 : 499-502). Although Brickley emphasized that he was not speaking for the Discovery Institute, he acknowledged that he requested its assistance while he was preparing his presentation to the school board.
When the meeting resumed on January 28, dozens of speakers commented on the policy, as in the previous session of the meeting. David DeWolf, a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture and Professor of Law at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, told the board, "I believe that a careful review of the legal implications of this policy would reveal that it is fully consistent with state educational requirements, and that there is no reason to fear that it would violate any constitutional restrictions." He added that even if a lawsuit were to be filed, "there are a variety of organizations who are committed to open discussion in this area and who I believe would agree to defend the board's position if it were to adopt this policy. I personally would volunteer to assist the board in identifying such counsel." (DeWolf's testimony is available on-line at http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?program=CSC&command=v….)
Speaking against the policy, Dixie Stark of RCCS wryly told the board that the grassroots pro-science organization needed no attorneys to help it to make its case: "We are not the ones who are about to break the law," she said. "The school board is" (The Missoulian 2004 Jan 29). While not describing the policy as illegal, Montana School Boards Association attorney Elizabeth Kaleva told the board that it was unwise to enact such a policy as Brickley's "objective origins policy" without describing how it is to be implemented. The policy encourages teachers to help their students to analyze the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolution, she noted, but fails to specify how they are supposed to do so or whether they are required to do so.
No decision was reached at the January 28 meeting. Discussion resumed on February 2, with comments from supporters and opponents of the policy continuing. Particularly telling were comments from the principals of the Darby schools, who expressed their worries about adopting a policy in the absence of any plan for implementing it, and from high school student Zach Honey, who reported that the "vast majority" of his schoolmates were opposed. Nevertheless, the board finally voted 3-2 to adopt the "objective origins" policy, with Gina Schallenberger, Doug Banks, and Elisabeth Bender voting for it and Mary Lovejoy and Bob Wetzsteon voting against it. Both Lovejoy and Wetzsteon expressed concern that the board was flouting the advice of its own attorney; indeed, according to The Missoulian (2004 Feb 3), "Wetzsteon repeatedly asked the majority why they were disregarding Kaleva's advice, but he got no answer."
Political and legal entanglementsThe vote on February 2 was not the final word, since in Darby, such a policy change requires approval (by a simple majority) in two separate meetings. The flurry of letters to the editors and op-eds in the local newspapers increased in intensity, as both sides sought to bolster their positions and support in anticipation of a second vote. Also significant was the upcoming election on May 4, in which one supporter of the "objective origins" policy (Schallenberger) and one opponent (Wetzsteon) were up for re-election; the views of the candidates would prove to be crucial in their campaigns.
Those opposed to the "objective origins" policy welcomed the intervention of Montana's Superintendent of Public Instruction, Linda McCulloch, who characterized the policy as a way to smuggle creationism into the science curriculum. "It is not science," she told The Missoulian (2004 Feb 4). "You won't find any credible group of scientists or science teachers who advocate these philosophies as science." She also described "intelligent design" as creation science retooled to survive constitutional scrutiny. Her stance was subsequently attacked by John Fuller, hoping to be the Republican candidate for McCulloch's post, who complained, "Given the reverence of local control of schools in Montana, if Darby wishes to investigate such a curriculum, shouldn't they be permitted to do so without the self-righteous threats of the superintendent?" McCulloch responded, "Mr Fuller is fooling himself if he thinks 'objective origins' and 'intelligent design', or whatever you want to call them, is anything more than an attempt to put religion in our classrooms" (Billings Gazette 2004 Feb 5).
Also inveighing against the policy was Eric Feaver, the president of the Montana Education Association and Montana Federation of Teachers (MEA-MFT), the organization that represents Darby's teachers. Echoing McCulloch's remarks, he said, "no matter what the proponents of this 'objective origins' policy say, this is all about religion. The Montana Constitution just forbids this" (The Missoulian 2004 Feb 4). He also said that MEA-MFT was concerned about the lack of a curriculum corresponding to the "objective origins" policy and would insist that teachers be involved in the development of any such curriculum. Additionally, Ravalli County Attorney George Corn went on record as endorsing the opinion of James McCubbin and Elizabeth Kaleva that the policy was problematic (The Missoulian 2004 Feb 5).
But proponents of the "objective origins" policy were not idle in securing legal advisors of their own. During the school board's debate over the policy, Harris Himes, a pastor at the Big Sky Christian Center in nearby Hamilton (and unsuccessful candidate for the school board there; see Updates, p 16), produced a letter from the Alliance Defense Fund offering its legal assistance to the board. Then, on February 2, the ADF formally offered its services directly to the board in case it were to be sued over adopting the policy. Bridgette Erickson, a lawyer from Lincoln, Montana (a town about 140 miles away), subsequently emerged as the ADF's de facto representative, addressing the Darby school board at a meeting on February 24 to explore the possibility of the ADF's representing the board if necessary (The Missoulian 2004 Feb 16).
The ADF, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, describes itself as "a servant organization that provides the resources that will keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel through the legal defense and advocacy of religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and traditional family values" (http://www.alliancedefensefund.org/about/). Among those listed as its founders are Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, D James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries, and James Dobson of Focus on the Family. It was also involved in the controversy over the presence of a creationist book in the bookstores at Grand Canyon National Park (see RNCSE 2004 Jan/Feb; 24 : 4-5).
At the school board meeting on February 24, Erickson offered her services to the board pro bono, supplementing the ADF's offer to pay her fees to defend the board in the event of a lawsuit. Describing the "objective origins" policy as "on the cutting edge of modern education" (Ravalli Republic 2004 Feb 26), she also offered to help the district to develop a corresponding curriculum. Elizabeth Kaleva again warned the board about the perils of adopting the policy, noting that Erickson's affiliation with the ADF was problematic: "If you're challenged in state or federal court, you'll be asked to defend your motives as completely free of religious motives," she said. "And that's hard to do with an organization like ADF defending you." Kaleva also said that the Montana School Boards Association was unwilling to defend the school board against a lawsuit over the policy. Nevertheless, the board voted 3-2 to retain Erickson as counsel; the three in favor of retaining her were the same as those who voted in favor of adopting the "objective origins" policy.
Real grassroots reactionsThe decision of the board to retain Erickson was greeted with displeasure by students at Darby's high school. On February 25, about one-third of the school's 170 students - as well as one teacher - walked out of school to demonstrate against the "objective origins" policy. Slogans on their signs included "Creationism in a cheap tuxedo" and "Objective origins: Just say Noah" (Ravalli Republic 2004 Feb 26; The Missoulian 2004 Feb 26). Aaron Lebowitz, the senior who organized the demonstration, explained, "I just thought that we needed a way to get the community and the board to listen to us. We're important. We're what this is all about."
As the controversy continued to rage, rumors about a boycott of the Darby schools circulated. Writing in the weekly Missoula Independent (2004 Feb 26), Josh Mahan reported "that as many as 30 families may want to yank their children from the Darby school system if the proposal passes." Since the school system receives about $5000 per student, such a mass withdrawal would be financially disastrous. Science teacher Karen Hedges lamented, "That breaks my heart. We have a good school. On top of losing good kids, that's a lot of money. Then we'll lose staff."
In the course of noting that the "objective origins" policy was on everyone's lips in Darby, Mahan also remarked, "There's even a curious New York Times reporter holed up in Bud & Shirley's Motel." Emerging from his quarters there and returning to New York, James Glanz subsequently published a long piece on the situation in Darby. Glanz is a respected science reporter for the Times, with a PhD in physics from Princeton University; his previous articles include "Darwin vs design: Evolutionists' new battle" (The New York Times 2001 Apr 8), which proponents of "intelligent design" are fond of citing as evidence that their view is taken seriously.
"Montana creationism bid evolves into unusual fight" (The New York Times 2004 Feb 29), however, focused not on anti-evolutionists but on grassroots resistance to their efforts, as exemplified in Darby. Glanz was evidently impressed by the quick formation and effective advocacy of RCCS. NCSE's role in advising and supporting groups such as RCCS was also noted: "Some of the groups take their leads from umbrella organizations like the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif., which tracks the disputes and supports the teaching of mainstream evolution." Additionally, the article quoted NCSE's executive director Eugenie C Scott and mentioned NCSE's postdoctoral scholar Alan Gishlick's appearance in Darby.
On March 2, Rod Miner and Martha Stromberg, whose two children are in the Darby school system, increased the pressure on the board by sending a letter announcing their intention to sue the board if the "objective origins" policy were adopted. In their letter, published in the Ravalli Republic (2004 Mar 3) and reprinted on p 6, they remarked, "The objective origins policy [currently] before you, if approved, will direct Darby science teachers to present to our children as scientific what are in fact religious teachings, thus establishing government sponsored religion in our school. This policy is illegal, and we will challenge it." "We want the board to listen to us seriously, and we want them to talk about why they're doing this," Miner told The Missoulian (2004 Mar 3). "Ravalli County Citizens for Science is very willing to sit down with the board and the proponents without a judge and without a lawyer and explain to them how they're being misled."
Mary Lovejoy and Bob Wetzsteon, the two members of the board who opposed the policy, welcomed the letter and the invitation to discuss the issue with RCCS, but they expressed skepticism about their fellow board members' willingness to do so. "I don't think, based on the action of the majority of the board, that the meeting will ever take place," Wetzsteon said (The Missoulian 2004 Mar 4). Although Bridgette Erickson also welcomed the letter, saying, "I would like us to sit down and talk about the specifics to see if we really have any substantive disagreements," board chair Gina Schallenberger refused to comment on the letter, and no such meeting ever took place.
If the letter from Miner and Stromberg was a new weapon for the opponents of the "objective origins" policy, a different letter served as a new weapon for its supporters. In early February, Montana's Superintendent of Public Instruction Linda McCulloch wrote to the Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, to seek clarification about the so-called Santorum Amendment. "We had been getting questions from people who said that Rev Brickley was claiming that No Child Left Behind required schools to teach 'intelligent design'," McCulloch told The Missoulian (2004 Mar 11). "So I wanted to make clear with the secretary that that wasn't true."
She received a reply from Eugene Hickok, Acting Deputy Secretary, dated March 8. After explaining at length that the Department of Education is largely prohibited from influencing curriculum, Hickok wrote, "The NCLB Act does not contain any language that requires or prohibits any particular scientific views or theories either as part of a state's science curriculum or otherwise." He then quoted the Santorum language from the conference report (for details, see RNCSE 2002 May/Jun; 22 : 4-5 or Glenn Branch and Eugenie C Scott's "The anti-evolution law that wasn't", The American Biology Teacher 2003 March; 65 : 165-6), adding, "The Department, of course, embraces the general principles ... of academic freedom and inquiry into scientific views or theories." (Hickok was Pennsylvania's Secretary of Education when creationism was allowed into the draft standards for science and technology education; see "Creeping creationism in Pennsylvania's science standards", RNCSE 2000 Jul/Aug; 20 : 13-5.)
In a press release dated March 9 (available on-line at http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=1897&…), the Discovery Institute's Stephen C Meyer tendentiously construed Hickok's letter thus: "[T]he executive branch of the federal government has just joined the Congress in making clear that states and local school boards have the right to teach students the scientific controversy that exists about Darwinian evolution and to determine their own science curriculum content." Unimpressed with Meyer's attempt at spin, McCulloch told The Missoulian that Hickok's letter would have little or no effect on Montana's science instruction.
Meanwhile, back in Darby, the prospect of a lawsuit was raising eyebrows. In a March 11 op-ed in the Ravalli Republic, Kathleen Duggan - founder of Darby Taxpayers Against Court Costs - explained that the cost of a trial would be incurred by property owners, whether they supported the "objective origins" policy or not. "While most of us don't mind paying for what is necessary for our schools, or voting on what we think is not," she wrote, "we should be outraged to pay for something so completely irrelevant to our kids and the good of our school." Before the board meeting on April 5, a group of protesters led by Duggan chanted, "We can't afford this Darby board!" "We've been giving the board the benefit of the doubt," Duggan told the Ravalli Republic (2004 Apr 7), "and unfortunately, we've been stepped on along the way."
Attracting attentionProbably because of the unprecedented publicity due to Glanz's story in The New York Times, the controversy in Darby continued to attract national attention. Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a freedom-of-information request with education officials in Montana to obtain "all documents referring to or relating to any potential decision of the Darby School Board to teach theories of the origins of human life, including evolution, creationism, 'intelligent design' or other 'objective origins' theories", according to its press release issued on April 6 (available on-line at http://www.au.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6564&news_iv_ctrl=0&ab…). The request was covered in several Montana newspapers, including The Missoulian (2004 Apr 7). In Montana, all eyes were on Darby. The Speaker of the Montana House of Representatives, Doug Mood, expressed his support for the "objective origins" policy, writing, "Darby School Board's proposed 'objective origins' policy is encouraging exactly the kind of critical discipline that should be a part of any teaching of science" (Ravalli Republic 2004 Apr 14). But at its April meeting in Missoula, the MEA-MFT, the organization representing Montana's teachers, unanimously passed a motion urging Darby to "cease all efforts to incorporate objective origins in Darby schools' science curriculum" (Ravalli Republic 2004 Apr 21). Evolution was suddenly a hot issue throughout the state - in Hamilton, Havre, and Helena, as well as in the preliminaries to the gubernatorial primary election (see Updates, p 16).
In the meantime, the Darby School Board was becoming embroiled in a different controversy. Throughout March, the board held several meetings to discuss candidates for the position of superintendent. These meetings were closed to the public, which the Ravalli Republic regarded as a violation of Montana's open meeting law. The newspaper asked the board to release the minutes of the closed meetings and to undertake not to violate the law in the future (Ravalli Republic 2004 Mar 26). After the board refused, the newspaper sued, asking for the minutes and any recordings of the closed meetings, as well as all documentation relating to the superintendent search (Ravalli Republic 2004 Apr 12). In a subsequent board meeting, the board altered the minutes of meetings, impelling the newspaper to obtain a restraining order to prevent the original minutes from being destroyed (Ravalli Republic 2004 Apr 21, Apr 27).
There were hints in the press that the meetings were closed because the majority of the board who supported the "objective origins" policy sought to ensure that the new superintendent would favor it as well. According to the weekly Missoula Independent (2004 Apr 15), "The meetings stem from a superintendent search that went awry when the same three members of the school board who are pushing for 'intelligent design' also became interested in recruiting a superintendent candidate with faith, though the board had already offered the job to someone else. Current superintendent, 13-year Darby veteran Jack Eggensperger, is leaving because he has 'a different philosophy' on 'intelligent design' than the board."
Between the "objective origins" policy and the closed meetings, there was plenty of fuel for the campaign before the May 4 election. Favoring the policy were incumbent Gina Schallenberger and hopeful Robert House; opposing it were incumbent Bob Wetzsteon and hopeful Erik Abrahamsen. The candidates teamed up in pairs, with Schallenberger and House running under the banners of "Local control" and "Fair and balanced" while Wetzsteon and Abrahamsen exhorted the electorate to "Fix this mess!" The Ravalli Republic (2004 Apr 27) reported, "Of the six school board trustee elections in Ravalli County, Darby's is the most heated, with candidates and their supporters spending more dollars to sway votes than in any other district." Campaign signs, political mail, and newspaper advertisements were rife. In a notable gaffe, signs supporting Schallenberger and House violated campaign regulations by not indicating their source, the newly formed political action committee Montana Advocates for True Science; the signs were quickly amended.
A further campaign irregularity surfaced just before the election. From April 29 to May 1, visitors to the Darby School District's web site were greeted by a pop-up window with the text of 5 advertisements published in the Ravalli Republic that defended the "objective origins" policy and urged citizens to vote for Schallenberger and House (Ravalli Republic 2004 May 3). It also contained Ohio's controversial "Critical analysis of evolution" lesson plan (see RNCSE 2004 Jan/Feb; 24 : 5-6). The window was placed without authorization by the Darby High School computer teacher. Superintendent Jack Eggensperger said that he expected a complaint to be filed with the Montana Commission for Political Practices, which forbids school districts to be involved in political campaigns.
On April 29, the Ravalli Republic expressed its editorial opinion: "We believe the Darby School Board's passage of their 'objective origins' policy is an unnecessary solution to a non-existent problem," adding, "We have serious concerns when the Darby School Board steps away from their supervisory role and begins dictating what scientific theories are presented in the classroom." Although the newspaper stopped short of endorsing any candidates, it remarked, "Voters in Darby have a unique opportunity May 4 to make their feelings known on objective origins. Gina Schallenberger and Robert House are on record supporting the controversial theory; Bob Wetzsteon and Erik Abrahamsen are opposed. It's a clear choice voters can make."
The controversy in Darby appeared again on the national stage, with a story on "intelligent design" aired on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition on May 2. Opening with a discussion of Brickley and his initial attempt to have "intelligent design" added to the science curriculum, it segued to a discussion of the "objective origins" policy and the RCCS's resistance to it. Darby teacher Karen Hedges said that the lack of a curriculum was particularly troublesome: "When I try to do research on it, everything takes me to 'intelligent design'. All the Web sites take me back to the Discovery Institute, which has some scary goals in mind - to do away with science. And it scares me to think that we might be headed in that direction." The story then turned to the Discovery Institute, defended by John West and criticized by Barbara Forrest (the coauthor of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design [New York: Oxford University Press, 2004] and a member of NCSE's board of directors).
Then, on May 3, the night before the election, the board voted 3-2 to hire James McLaughlin as the new superintendent; the three in favor of the offer were Schallenberger, Banks, and Bender, the supporters of the "objective origins" policy. Although the policy was not discussed during McLaughlin's interview, according to members of the board, some teachers said that he expressed support for it while touring their schools, and one teacher reported that "McLaughlin didn't believe in the scientific measurement of carbon dating" (Ravalli Republic 2004 May 5). There were other concerns expressed about McLaughlin's qualifications and background, leading one parent to question the timing of the decision to hire him just before the election. At the same meeting, the board decided to develop a policy governing the content of the district's web site; no disciplinary action was taken at the time against the teacher who placed the pop-up window there.
Finally, in the May 4 election, Bob Wetzsteon won re-election and Erik Abrahamsen won election (defeating Gina Schallenberger); both men won by almost a 2-to-1 margin, the weekly Missoula Independent (2004 May 13) reported: "Wetzsteon received 757 votes and Abrahamsen (whose daughter took part in the February 25 student protest against the 'objective origins' policy) received 737; Schallenberger and House received 352 and 351 votes, respectively. Turnout in the election was unprecedentedly high, at over 50%". Both Wetzsteon and Abrahamsen oppose the "objective origins" policy, meaning that it is unlikely that the newly constituted board will adopt it after all. It was unclear whether the board would consider the policy a second time and reject it - as Abrahamsen hopes, according to the Independent - or simply let it drop. (In the event, the board considered it and rejected it; details in the next issue of RNCSE.)
Rod Miner of RCCS was thrilled by the results of the election: "I am delighted and it will be really nice to see a spirit of team playing return to the Darby school board," Miner said. "We worked so hard to stop this thing short of a lawsuit. I am just very, very pleased" (The Missoulian 2004 May 5). And the people at the educational frontlines - the teachers in Darby's schools - were pleased, too: "The school is glowing," a school employee told the Ravalli Republic (2004 May 7). "Everybody is just psyched."