The campaign to try to force schools in the United States to teach an alternative to Darwinism has suffered a severe set-back after a judge ruled that to do so was a violation of the constitution.
The judge also said that proponents of so-called Intelligent Design had repeatedly lied about the religious convictions that drove them.
In a ruling that will reverberate in schools across the country, US District Judge John Jones ruled the Dover school board in Pennsylvania had been wrong to insist that a statement about Intelligent Design (ID) be read to pupils during biology lessons. He said such a policy represented "breathtaking inanity".
"The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the board who voted for the ID Policy," the judge wrote in a 139-page opinion, following a six-week trial. "It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy."
The ruling is a blow Christian conservatives who in more than 30 states across the US have been pressing for the teaching of Creationism. Some of the members of the Dover school board which voted for the measure were fundamentalist Christians. A number of those members were ousted in an election last month and the president of the new school board said it was unlikely that they would appeal the judge's ruling.
The row blew up last year when two board members, Jeff and Carol Buckingham, resigned in protest at the decision to teach ID. Soon afterwards a number of parents brought a lawsuit against the school board in which they claimed the separation of church and state afforded by the constitution was being breached.
The school board was the first in the US to introduce ID into the curriculum whereby 13 and 14-year-old students were required to listen to a statement read out in their biology classes which claimed that Darwinism was a theory with inexplicable "gaps" and was "not a fact". It encouraged students who wanted to know more to read a controversial ID text book called Of Pandas and People. Copies of the book were reportedly donated to the school by a relative of a former board member.
Last night, speaking from their home in Dover, Mrs Buckingham said: "I couldn't be more delighted. This is more than vindication. I see this as a reaffirmation of the separation of church and state."
Proponents of ID claim that life is inherently too complicated to have been created by accident. During the trial, lawyers for the board argued that the school board members were merely seeking to improve science education by exposing students to alternatives to Darwin's theory based on random selection.
Opponents say this is a little-disguised version of Creationism, which the Supreme Court has previously ruled should not be taught in schools. Indeed, when The Independent visited Dover when the controversy initially ignited last year, it was simple to discover that some of the school board members and their friends were conservative Christians who would have liked to have taught Creationism.
In his ruling the judge indicated that he too was aware of what lay behind the move to teach ID. "We find that the secular purposes claimed by the board amount to a pretext for the board's real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom," he said.
The controversy about ID was further fuelled earlier this year when President George Bush said he believed that both ID and Darwinism should be taught in schools.Reuse content