Science center settles First Amendment suit over intelligent design

The state-owned California Science Center has been embroiled for two years in a legal dispute over a documentary critiquing evolution. The American Freedom Alliance, which says it “promotes, defends and upholds Western values and ideals” — apparently, among them, the dubious scientific theory of Intelligent Design — originally sought to air the film in the rented science center’s IMAX theatre in 2009.

The museum eventually canceled the documentary, Darwin’s Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record, for fear of appearing to endorse its claims. The American Freedom Alliance then sued, arguing that the government-run science center had violated the First Amendment by showing preference for one viewpoint (evolution) over another (intelligent design, generally considered to be a more publicly palatable version of religious-based creationism).

Last  week the two reached a settlement: The science center is paying the American Freedom Alliance $110,000 to end the dispute, although, as the Los Angeles Times has pointed out, neither party is admitting wrongdoing in the unusual agreement. As part of the settlement, the science center agreed to invite the film back for a screening, and the American Freedom Alliance agreed to turn the invitation down.

Intelligent Design advocates are properly claiming victory, although their logic is slightly flawed. Said William J. Becker, Jr., the alliance’s lawyer: “It’s a vindication for ID, and First Amendment guarantees of free speech.”

While the latter may be true, the settlement hardly confers on intelligent design some new respectability in the eyes of public institutions. The notion that government may not suppress or favor the expression of certain ideas has nothing to do with whether or not those ideas have any merit.