Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Fisking Phyllis Schlaffly

One of the most fascinating aspects of the last couple weeks since the Dover ruling came down is surveying just how low some of the IDers are willing to go to attack Judge Jones. It’s all the more interesting because when he was assigned the case they were quite happy about the selection. After all, they had gotten a conservative judge, appointed by President Bush and with close ties to Tom Ridge and Rick Santorum. How could they have asked for anything more? Alas, once he ruled against them they turned on him like a pack of rabid dogs, engaging in one ad hominem after another. But the worst I’ve seen has to be this piece by Phyllis Schlaffly, which DI boss John West is endorsing.

Let’s not mince words: Schlaffly is flat out lying. But before she gets to the lies, she warms up by showing her ignorance:

Judge John E. Jones III could still be chairman of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board if millions of evangelical Christians had not pulled the lever for George W. Bush in 2000. Yet this federal judge, who owes his position entirely to those voters and the president who appointed him, stuck the knife in the backs of those who brought him to the dance in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.

Isn’t this interesting? Apparently Schlaffly is oblivious to the concept of judicial independence, one of the core concepts of our Constitution. The founders went to great lengths to make sure that judges would not be beholden to popular opinion, giving them lifetime appointments and making it virtually impossible to impeach them precisely to insulate them from any claim that they “owed” anyone anything. This was done so that judges could render an impartial decision based solely on the facts of the case and not on any sense of obligation to a constituency.

Students were merely to be read a brief statement asserting that “gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence,” and that intelligent design provides an explanation for the origin of life that could be further explored by consulting a book in the school library. While not denying that those statements may be true (it is undeniable that evolution has gaps), the judge nevertheless permanently enjoined the school board “from requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution” and from saying that the theory has gaps.

This is a lie. Nothing in Judge Jones’ ruling prevents teachers from “saying that the theory has gaps.” All scientific theories have gaps, aspects which are not fully understood or disputes over how to apply the theory in particular contexts. That does not mean all scientific theories are false. Any good treatment of evolution would include some discussion of areas of ongoing controversy among scholars. But that isn’t the case here. The alternative being given was an explicitly religious idea that had already been ruled out of public school science classrooms 19 years ago. Judge Jones had no choice but to follow that precedent. District judges don’t get to overrule Supreme Court rulings.

Jones exhibited his bias for judicial activism with public remarks that should have caused his recusal. Signaling that he would exploit the dispute, Jones boasted, “It certainly is one of the most significant cases in United States history. … Even Charles Darwin’s great grandson is attending the trial.”

This is pure idiocy. Does she really think that the mere fact that the judge acknowledged that the case was getting an extraordinary amount of attention means he should recuse himself? Should he instead be oblivious and pretend that the enormous media attention going on wasn’t really happening? There is no exploitation in his statement, only acknowledgement of the obvious. Indeed, if you look at the quote in context you can see how much of a stretch her interpretation is:

The trial has endured nearly four weeks and has been proven itself to an important chapter the ongoing battle between Church and State.

“It certainly is one of the most significant cases in United States history,” Judge Jones said. “Even Charles Darwin’s great grandson is attending the trial.”

“It’s hard to say [how this case will be remembered,” Judge Jones said. “History generally gets written a long time after the fact. We’ll know better in ten or 20 years. All we can do now is decided as according to the law and legal precedent and hope for the best.”

Now, does that really sound like a judge out for self-aggrandizement, or does it sound like a judge who recognizes the attention the case will get but understands that he just has to do his job the best he can? By the way, this was from an interview that Judge Jones gave to a high school newspaper in Pennsylvania. He was trying to give the kids a sense of how he does his job in the face of such enormous attention. To find something conspiratorial and scandalous in that is patently absurd.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge described Jones as a close friend and future candidate for governor. When questioned, Jones did not rule this out. Playing up to the New York Times in an article published days before his opinion was released, Jones made the silly boast that he reads five newspapers a day.

Why this is silly she doesn’t bother to say. It’s a common question for judges in high profile cases. Are they aware of what’s going on outside the courtroom, aware of the media attention a case is getting, or do they sequester themselves away as they would a jury and avoid watching the news or reading the papers? In Judge Jones’ case, he rightly acknowledged that the case was getting a great deal of attention and that he is not one of those judges who pretends to ignore the world around him. Only in the mind of someone desperate to find any means of tarring someone would this be interpreted as a bad thing.

He smeared “fundamentalists,” impugned the integrity of those who disagree with him by accusing them of lying and issued an unnecessary permanent injunction.

Wrong, wrong and wrong. He did not “smear” fundamentalists, and nowhere in the ruling will you find any statements that could be reasonably interpreted as such. He did note in many places that the roots of creationism can be found in the fundamentalist movement, but that is merely descriptive of reality. And he did not “impugn the integrity of those who disagree with him” by accusing them of lying, he accused two specific people of lying. And there is a very good reason why he did so – because they were lying. The trial record proves that beyond a shadow of a doubt and there may well be perjury charges coming.

Isn’t it interesting how Schlaffly doesn’t even address the question of whether the accusation of lying is true or not? She just assumes that if you’ve accused someone she agrees with of lying, you’re “impugning their integrity.” But what if the accusation is true, as it is in this case? Frankly, this article makes very clear that Schlaffly doesn’t give a damn about the truth. As far as the “unnecessary” injunction, she continues to beat this drum later:

As the reader of five newspapers, Jones was surely aware that the Dover school board had already changed hands, indicating it would be dropping mention of intelligent design. Rather than admit that the case was largely moot, as a judge should, he resorted to judicial activism to make the case a cause celebre.

This is just total cluelessness. Legal scholars were pretty much agreed that the election did not moot the case under any legal doctrine. Neither side made any motion to have the case dismissed following the results of the election. Under the voluntary cesession doctrine, the fact that a defendant voluntarily stops doing what he is being sued for is not grounds for a case to be dismissed, the court still has to rule on the merits of the case. More importantly, the new school board did not get seated until a month after the election and they did not reverse the policy until this week. A judge certainly cannot dismiss a case, without a motion to do so, because a new school board might decide to change the policy. He still has to rule on the case before him.

To highlight the hypocrisy of this, there is now a case going on in Massachusetts involving students who were suspended for handing out candy canes with bible verses attached to them in school. The ACLU wrote a letter to the school and got the suspensions reversed, but the students, represented by Schlaffly allies the Liberty Council, filed suit anyway to get an injunction to insure it doesn’t happen again. They have every right to do so, of course, and I don’t hear Phyllis complaining about that case.

He lashed out at witnesses who expressed religious views different from his own, displaying a prejudice unworthy of our judiciary. He denigrated several officials because they “staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public.”

This is the biggest and most ridiculous lie of them all. The judge did not say anything whatsoever about “religious views different from his own.” He never mentioned his religious views at all. He lashed out at witnesses for lying under oath. As for the second accusation, judge for yourself. Here is what Judge Jones actually wrote about those officials:

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

What is even more ironic is that Schlaffly is lying about what the judge said in order to cover up the real reason why he “denigrated” those public officials. When William Buckingham said he had never discussed creationism at school board meetings, he was lying. When he said that he had no idea where the money to buy the books came from, he was lying. When Alan Bonsell claimed that he didn’t know where that money came from, he was lying. And that’s just a small sample of the lies they told. They lied and they got caught lying and the judge – correctly and accurately – nailed them for their lies. He did not “denigrate” them because they touted their religious faith in public, he correctly takes them to task for touting their religious faith in public and then committing perjury on the witness stand, an act that surely stands in marked contrast to the requirements of that faith.

With all of the vicious attacks coming from the DI over the last couple weeks, I thought they had reached rock bottom in how low they would stoop to attack Judge Jones. Clearly, that was just a warmup for Schlaffly’s screed. The fact that the DI’s director links to and endorses the content only shows that they are complicit in the multiple lies and fallacies found within it. These people simply do not care what is true and what is not. If an accusation is useful to them, they will make it – and truth be damned. As much as I think those “What Would Jesus Do” bracelets are absurd, I think Schlaffly and West could surely use them. Liars for Jesus, indeed.


  1. #1 Ginger Yellow
    January 4, 2006

    How does Schafly know (or even pretend to know) what Jones’s religious views are? I don’t, and I’ve been following the case a hell of a lot more closely than she has.

  2. #2 Ed Brayton
    January 4, 2006

    Judge Jones is Lutheran.

  3. #3 Pieter B
    January 4, 2006

    It’s pretty obvious that ol’ Phyllis read the DI’s talking points and the NY Times’s article on Judge Jones. I’m surprised that she didn’t make a big deal out of the fact that he admitted that he didn’t go to church every week, actually.

    Jones made the silly boast that he reads five newspapers a day

    A little red meat for the know-nothings who move their lips when they watch television.

  4. #4 Dave S.
    January 4, 2006

    All scientific theories have gaps, aspects which are not fully understood or disputes over how to apply the theory in particular contexts. That does not mean all scientific theories are false.

    This may be what you and I think that term gap in a theory means, but I have to wonder if it meens the same to Schlaffly and the rest of her clueless creationist ilk.

    To them it often means, as is my experience, something that is not consistant with and indeed is in direct opposition to the theory. The “lack” of fossil transitional forms for example is more than a statement about missing evidence….it’s a positive statement that to them is direct opposite to the predictions of evolutionary theory. IOW, they don’t want us to teach that there are few transitional forms leading to bats because bats tend to live in low depositional environments unconducive to fossilization; they want us to teach that the lack of such fossils is evidence evolution (of the macro variety) did not happen period. That to them, in my limited experience, this is often what a gap means.

    Equivocation between meanings is the stock in trade of creationists, whether its the difference between ‘is not explained’ and ‘cannot be explained’ or something else.

  5. #5 Ed Darrell
    January 4, 2006

    This is the biggest and most ridiculous lie of them all. The judge did not say anything whatsoever about “religious views different from his own.” He never mentioned his religious views at all. He lashed out at witnesses for lying under oath. As for the second accusation, judge for yourself.

    Well, let’s be charitable: Perhaps Ms. Schlafly means that, in her own religion, it is okay to lie under oath — and so she regards Judge Jones’ partiality to the truth as adherence to a religion different from Schlafly’s religion.

    . . . On second, thought, no, you’re right: The woman is a crazed parody of an idiot right-winger.

  6. #6 Dave S.
    January 4, 2006

    Ooops…we got the name wrong Ed (Brayton, not Darrell, you got it right). Its Phyllis Schlafly, one ‘f’.

  7. #7 spyder
    January 4, 2006

    “Jones made the silly boast that he reads five newspapers a day.”
    Probably appears a silly boast to Phyllis when she is on her knees praying for guidance and wisdom from her leader George who proudly boasts that he doesn’t read any newspapers. I am getting the feeling that “reading newspapers” is the new talking GOP labelling term to disparage liberals.

  8. #8 MikeHol
    January 4, 2006

    People that attempt to stay educated and informed by reading will always be viewed with suspicion by the creationists wackos. If you aren’t simply spoonfed your information from a pulpit, you are not to be trusted.

  9. #9 djmullen
    January 5, 2006

    Excellent post, but I have one caveat – the use of the word “Fisking”. Robert Fisk is a war correspondent, originally for the London Times until Rupert Murdoch bought the paper, and now for the London Independent. He spends most of his time in the middle east, with occasional jaunts to such hotspots as Northern Ireland.

    Fisk is one of the most fearless war correspondents I’ve ever heard of. It’s a minor miracle that he’s still alive.

    He’s also one of the most accurate correspondents I’ve ever heard of and he’s been reporting the middle east accurately at least since Israel invaded Lebanon some twenty years ago.

    Because of his accuracy, he has utterly enraged the right wing in this country and naturally, being right wingers, they spend a lot of time attempting to tear his writing to shreds. They’ve even given a name to such attempts to shred a better man’s reputation – Fisking.

    Their problem is that they invariably fail at their attempts because Fisk is about 99.9% right.

    Because of this, “Fisking” should really be a word that means “Mean spirited right wingers who attempt to tear a truthful report which they disagree with to shreds and fail every time.”

    If anybody would like to sample Robert Fisk for themselves, he’s just published a huge new book, “The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East”. I’m about 1/10 of the way into it right now, smack in the middle of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. If anybody reads this book, they’ll soon see why the right wing hates Fisk and why their attempts to tear him down invariably fail.

  10. #10 djmullen
    January 5, 2006

    Of course, the use of the word “Fisking” is accurate here, because Schlafly IS a right winger, compulsively trying to shred an honest man’s report and failing miserably.

  11. #11 SteveF
    January 5, 2006

    Without wanting to be too anal, but wasn’t fisking coined by pro-war left wingers (like myself)? I have a fair amount of respect for Fisk (have you read William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain), but I have read certain things on pro-war lefty blogs (like Harry’s Place) that have made me a little suspicious of him.

  12. #12 Red Mann
    January 5, 2006

    Here’s another ridiculous piece from the Eagle Forum on the topic:


    I sent them an email, since they don’t allow any comments. The opening paragraph:

    I’m flabbergasted. How can you represent yourself as a Christian and tell such blatant lies? This seems to be the norm amongst you far right types. Lyin’ for Jesus is OK, I guess. There is no such thing as “Creation Science”. The belief in creation is completely religious, it has no basis in fact, it is not considered science by any reasonable person. The Bible, regardless of what you believe, is not a factual source for anything scientific. The Bible represents the beliefs of one group of people and is only true for them. There are billions of people in the world who do not believe it. And in this country, so far, we have the right not to have to believe what you believe. There is no “theory” of “Intelligent Design”. Regardless of the constant stream of lies and distortions that flow from the Discovery Institute and other ID supporters, there is no science to be found in ID.

    No response of course.

  13. #13 Ginger Yellow
    January 5, 2006

    Wanting to go too anal (ooer), it’s not the London Times or the London Independent. There are no such papers. It’s the Times and the Independent. You don’t call USA Today the McLean USA Today, because it’s a national newspaper.

  14. #14 djmullen
    January 6, 2006

    Hah! Nobody out-anals me! A quick Google for independent newspaper shows there are Independent newspapers in Ireland, Zimbabwe, Scotland, the Domican Republic and Livermore, which also serves Pleasanton and Sunoi. I stopped after that one. I didn’t bother to Google for times newspaper, but I know of at least one in New York City.

  15. #15 Ocellated.com
    January 6, 2006

    Ed, your trackbacks never have worked for me… If one should suddenly show up, I apologized. But assuming it won’t, here’s a manual trackback.

    Discovery Institute Sinks to New Lows

  16. #16 Ed Brayton
    January 6, 2006

    Ocellated wrote:

    Ed, your trackbacks never have worked for me

    The trackbacks seem to work only when they feel like working here and I’ve never understood why. All of the spam trackbacks seem to get through, but few of the real ones.

  17. #17 raj
    January 6, 2006

    djmullen at January 6, 2006 04:54 AM

    A quick Google for independent newspaper shows there are Independent newspapers in…

    I’m not sure what you are referring to, but you have to be a bit careful when referring to “independent” newspapers in other countries. In Germany, for example, more than a few newspapers were affiliated with political parties, religious organizations or other organizations. That was well known. “Unabhaengisch” (independent) newspapers were not affiliated with any organization.

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