March 9-15, 2006
city beatTwo Minutes with Eric Rothschild
A decade after his 1993 graduation from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Eric Rothschild visited Penn's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology to hear Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speak about interpreting the original meaning of the Constitution. On Monday, Rothschild will take the same stage to talk about his own experience defending the Constitution. Rothschild led the team of lawyers representing parents who challenged the Dover Area School District's intelligent design policy. Rothschild's cross-examination of the defense's leading expert was recreated in a December New Yorker article and helped his side win the modern-day monkey trial.
City Paper: Eighty years after Scopes, why does the theory of evolution still generate so much controversy?
Eric Rothschild: For the same reason it did then. Not because there is a scientific controversy about evolution there really isn't but because there's a religious, political and cultural controversy over it. Some don't want students to accept the theory of evolution from a scientific standpoint because it may cause them not to believe certain things taught in their churches.
CP: Do you think the partisan split between Republicans and Democrats has put that debate in stronger relief?
ER: It's not a secret that we're living during a time when certain conservative religious viewpoints are being expressed in the political arena and I think this is one of the issues that may be coming to the forefront a little more because of that. But this was an issue that was fought in the '80s, it was fought in the '70s, it was fought in the '60s. It was being fought all the way back to the '20s.
CP: State governments and school boards across the country have considered teaching intelligent design in some capacity. Does the ruling in the Dover School District case hold up to challenges or set any precedent?
ER: As a strict legal matter, it doesn't bind other states. But it's clearly having a very influential effect. We saw a school district in California drop their intelligent design plan. We saw a school district in Ohio reverse their anti-evolution plan. And just [last] week in Utah the state legislature decided not to pass an anti-evolution bill that was pending there. The issue isn't over, but we're seeing some promising results. There's clearly a connection to the Kitzmiller case.
CP: In your closing, you mentioned that one of the kids, Griffin, loves science and that he might one day figure out something that changes the whole world, like Charles Darwin did. Tell me more about that.
ER: [Plaintiff] Cyndi Sneath gave this really profound testimony about her son, who is 7 years old the same age as my son at the time and how he loves science and the Discovery Channel and seeing rockets launch and all those sort of things he's just captivated by. And what became clear in this case was what an anti-science and repressive stance some of the board members had taken. That's unfair to this kid.
CP: A lot of people see intelligent design as Bible-based creationism and thinly veiled religion and don't really take it seriously as a threat.
ER: It is thinly veiled creationism and that's why it's a threat.