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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 December 2005, 22:17 GMT
Big questions for a small town

By Matt Frei
BBC News, Dover, Pennsylvania

Bad blood is being spilled a stone's throw from Gettysburg

Americans love to think that they are a united nation, but some wounds never completely heal.

Like the one inflicted on these fields a century and a half ago. This is Gettysburg, site of the bloodiest battle on American soil.

Not since the civil war was fought right here has America been as divided as it is today about some really fundamental issues.

Then of course it was all about slavery and states' rights.

Today, amongst other things, it is about the role of God in society, the separation of church and state - strange issues you might say for a modern, industrialised nation.

No bullets and bodies this time, but plenty of bad blood and it is all being spilled a stone's throw from Gettysburg, in the picturesque town of Dover.

Today's battlefield: the local high school, where parents have been arguing for months about a very lofty question.

Should the science curriculum include "intelligent design" - the idea that a higher being was involved in the making of all this?

Argument lost

"Evolution is not the only way to look at science," says Jim Cashman, a former member of the local school board.

A group of Dover parents took the school board to court - and won

"There are other considerations here, life is very complex and there are other theories to look at, to know of, to round out the picture and complete the picture."

But Mr Cashman and his family have lost their argument. He and all the other supporters of intelligent design were voted off the school board.

Next stop the Emig family. Terry may be a softly spoken school bus driver, but he led the charge against intelligent design and was voted on.

"We feel it belongs in a history course, or a religious course... make it elective for the kids to make up their own minds. It's just not a science to me."

Jim Cashman
Jim Cashman was voted off the school board

On the front lawns of Dover, gnome-sized placards - hint of a local battle that has gone national.

Even the television evangelist Reverend Pat Robertson has filled his airwaves with fire and brimstone.

He says Dover's residents should no longer turn to God, even in "a natural disaster" because they have "relegated him from the city".

So, beware ye all. But even in the federal capital, the think tanks are busy thinking.

Robert Boston works for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Parents 'scared'

He says: "We have a secular state according to our constitution but culturally there is great resistance to that.

TV show featuring intelligent design debate
The row over intelligent design has touched the nation

"So the fundamentalists, who are very well organised and very well funded, continue to work through the political system to attack evolution."

Back in Dover, the children who are on the receiving end of the row are being more adult about it than the adults.

"I think the fact that there is religion attached to the argument is scaring a lot of parents," one girl told us.

God, Darwin, evolution. In America some of the biggest questions are debated in the most unlikely places.

US evolution court battle opens
27 Sep 05 |  Americas
A question of creation
15 Aug 05 |  Magazine
Bush weighs into evolution debate
09 Aug 05 |  Americas
Kansas rejects theory of evolution
12 Aug 99 |  Americas
Intelligent Design
03 Jul 02 |  Archive


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