Dover’s dominos-3: The Dover school board battles the Discovery Institute

(See part 1, part 2 here.)

The Dover school board members were encouraged to adopt their policy by the offer, when they encountered the inevitable legal challenge, of legal representation by the Thomas More Law Center, based in Michigan, and which was “created in 1999 by Thomas Monaghan, founder of Dominos Pizza and a philanthropist for conservative Catholic causes.” The center supports all kinds of religion-based social policies, and was eager to take on the teaching of evolution theory in schools. To give you some idea of how extreme this group’s views are, the president and chief counsel of the center Richard Thompson believes that:

Christianity is under siege from all quarters, but especially from the federal courts, the American Civil Liberties Union, and what Thompson calls the “homosexual lobby.”

The ACLU and the courts are “basically cleansing America of religion and particularly Christianity,” Thompson said. “It’s almost like a genocide. It’s a sophisticated genocide.”

So it is clear that Thompson is a charter member (along with Bill O’Reilly) of the crazy cult that believes that it is Christians who are persecuted in the US. Anyone who uses the word “genocide” to describe the situation of Christians in the US clearly needs to lie down and take a nap until the fever passes.

The Thomas More center and the Dover school board were itching for a fight with those they saw as secular Darwinists. “Bring it on!” seemed to be their cry. Needless to say, the somewhat more sophisticated strategists at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute were not happy with their erstwhile allies in Dover shouting loudly about their blatantly religious motives. They could see their cautious, delicately-balanced, and expensive long-range plan, which depended upon carefully avoiding any mention of religion, falling apart because of the clumsy blundering of the Dover board, aided and even egged on by the Thomas More lawyers.

But once that die was cast and the Dover policy adopted, the Discovery Institute was placed in a quandary. The Thomas More center did not have the legal resources to mount the kind of sophisticated arguments necessary in such a case. Should the Discovery Institute completely disassociate themselves from the Dover school board actions and distance themselves from the case as it went down to likely defeat? Or should they throw themselves also into the fray, provide their own expert witnesses, pour all their considerable financial and legal resources into the case, and hope to secure victory from the jaws of an otherwise almost certain defeat?

In the end they waffled, initially agreeing to be part of the case, and then backing out when the Thomas More Law Center did not want the Discovery Institute’s own lawyers representing their clients. This caused bad feelings on both sides which spilled out into the open, as The Toledo Blade reported on March 30, 2006:

In fact, when Mr. Thompson decided to defend the Dover intelligent design policy, he angered the group most associated with intelligent design: the Discovery Institute, a conservative think-tank based in Seattle.

“We were incredibly frustrated by arrogance and bad legal judgment of goading the [Dover] school district to keep a policy that the main organization supporting intelligent design was opposed to,” says John West, the associate director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.

The Thomas More Center acted “in the face of opposition from the group that actually represents most of the scientists who work on intelligent design.’’
. . .
In fact, these two prominent supporters of intelligent design couldn’t be much more at odds.

Mr. Thompson says the Discovery Institute bailed out on the Dover Board of Education when three of its experts refused to testify at the last minute, after the deadline for recruiting witnesses had passed.

But Mr. West says the whole thing was the More Center’s fault. Mr. Thompson wouldn’t let Discovery Institute fellows have separate legal representation.

The Discovery Institute has never advocated the teaching of intelligent design, and told the Dover board to drop its policy, Mr. West says. It participated in the trial only reluctantly.

“We were in a bind,” Mr. West says. “Our ideals were on trial even though it was a policy we didn’t support.”

Richard Thompson countercharges that the Discovery Institute people are essentially wimps, people who just talk a tough game but don’t put their beliefs on the line when it counts:

Mr. Thompson says the Discovery Institute’s strategy is to dodge a fight as soon as one appears imminent.

“The moment there’s a conflict they will back away . . .they come up with some sort of compromise.” But in Dover “they got some school board members that didn’t want compromise.”

This intramural battle between two groups supposedly on the same pro-IDC side did not augur well for the trial that was scheduled when some Dover parents led by Tammy Kitzmiller challenged the constitutionality of the school board’s decision.

The stage was now set for the courtroom confrontation.

Next in this series: Why the Dover school board lost the case.

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