Friday, December 23, 2005
PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 22 -- Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) withdrew on Thursday his affiliation from the Christian-rights law center that defended a school district's policy requiring the teaching of "intelligent design."
Santorum, the Senate's third-ranking Republican, is facing a tough reelection challenge next year. Earlier, he praised the Dover Area School District for "attempting to teach the controversy of evolution."
But the day after a federal judge ruled that the district's policy on intelligent design is unconstitutional, Santorum told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was troubled by testimony indicating that religion motivated some school board members to adopt the policy.
Santorum was on the advisory board of the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center, which defended the district's policy. "I thought the Thomas More Law Center made a huge mistake in taking this case and in pushing this case to the extent they did," Santorum said. He said he will end his affiliation with the center.
The leading Democratic challenger in Santorum's 2006 reelection bid, state Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr., accused him of backtracking. Casey spokesman Larry Smar said that Santorum's statements were "yet another example of 'Election Year Rick' changing his positions for political expediency." Casey has led Santorum in recent polls.
Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the center, said Santorum's withdrawal came as no surprise because, several weeks earlier, the senator had indicated that he was unhappy with the center's involvement in the case. "It is a very controversial issue, as you know, and he is involved in a very hotly contested Senate race, and it's probably in his best interest," Thompson said Thursday.
U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled Tuesday that the Dover district's policy of requiring students in biology class to hear a statement about intelligent design is "a pretext . . . to promote religion in the public school classroom." The statement says Darwin's theory is "not a fact." It refers students to an intelligent-design textbook.
Intelligent design's proponents hold that living organisms are so complex they must have been created by a higher force rather than evolving from more primitive forms. Critics, including those who challenged the district, say it amounts to a secular repackaging of creationism, which courts have ruled cannot be taught in public schools.
In 2002, Santorum said in a Washington Times op-ed article that intelligent design "is a legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in science classes."
On Thursday, he said he meant that teachers should have the freedom to mention intelligent design as part of the evolution debate -- not be required to do so. He added that his position has not changed.
Santorum said he disagrees with the Dover school board's policy of requiring the teaching of intelligent design, rather than just teaching the controversy surrounding evolution. He said the case provides "a bad set of facts" for a test on whether theories other than evolution should be taught in science class.