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CULTURE DIGEST: Key part in Pa. ruling on Intelligent Design copied from ACLU; voters want limits on eminent domain; …

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A close study of a popular court ruling on the teaching of Intelligent Design in public schools revealed that the judge copied nearly word-for-word a document written by the ACLU and passed it off as his own opinion.

“Judge John Jones copied verbatim or virtually verbatim 90.9 percent of his 6,004-word section on whether intelligent design is science from the ACLU’s proposed ‘Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law’ submitted to him nearly a month before his ruling,” John West, vice president for legal affairs at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, said Dec. 12 in a news release.

“Ironically, Judge Jones has been hailed as ‘an outstanding thinker’ for his ‘masterful’ ruling, and even honored by Time magazine as one of the world’s ‘most influential people’ in the category of ‘scientists and thinkers,’” West said. “But Jones’ analysis of the scientific status of intelligent design contains virtually nothing written by Jones himself. This finding seriously undercuts the credibility of a central part of the ruling.”

Jones, a U.S. district judge, ruled in December 2005 that Intelligent Design may not be taught to science students in Pennsylvania because it violates the Constitution’s Establishment Clause prohibiting government endorsement of religion. The ruling was not appealed.

The study of Jones’ ruling was conducted by scholars affiliated with Discovery Institute, and it found that, “For all practical purposes, Jones allowed ACLU attorneys to write nearly the entire section of his opinion analyzing whether intelligent design is science. As a result, this central part of Judge Jones’ ruling reflected essentially no original deliberative activity or independent examination of the record on Jones’ part.”

Bruce Green, an attorney with Discovery’s Center for Law and Policy, said although judges rarely copy one side’s findings verbatim, there is no rule that explicitly forbids it.

“While having no legal bearing at this stage, it is highly frowned upon by the federal judiciary for a judge to adopt wholesale the findings and conclusions of a party without making a case for independent investigation demonstrated in the record,” Green said.

The U.S. Supreme Court has discouraged the practice of judges adopting a lawyer’s position as his own, and in 2004 a Third Circuit ruling said judicial opinions “constitute the logical and analytical explanations of why a judge arrived at a specific decision.”

“They are tangible proof to the litigants that the judge actively wrestled with their claims and arguments and made a scholarly decision based on his or her own reason and logic,” the Third Circuit said.

VOTERS WANT LIMITS ON EMINENT DOMAIN — A messenger to this year’s Baptist State Convention of North Carolina raised a concern that seems to have resonated with voters across the country.

Deryl Holliday, interim pastor of Sedgefield Baptist Church in Greensboro, asked messengers to approve a resolution supporting a bill in the state legislature that would require the state to pay replacement value for any land or facilities owned by churches and other non-profits that is claimed through eminent domain, according to the Biblical Recorder newsjournal.

Sedgefield’s church building sits in the path of a planned six-lane highway, the Recorder reported, causing the state to claim the property through eminent domain. Holliday told messengers the church needs $1 million to replace its land and facilities but the state offered only $600,000. Messengers approved the resolution with no opposition.

This fall, nine states passed measures to restrict governments from exercising eminent domain for economic development. Ballot measures to limit eminent domain powers to public uses were approved by large margins in eight states during the November elections, and Louisiana passed a similar measure in September, The New York Times said.

A total of 34 states have adopted laws or passed ballot measures in response to the Connecticut case that granted governments eminent domain powers, Kelo v. New London, The Times reported. In Kelo, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of local officials to require the forced sale of homes and businesses, including churches, for private development intended to increase the tax base of a city.

“A message has been sent that state and local governments have to do a better job of justifying a need for eminent domain,” Larry Morandi, a land-use specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures, told The Times.

Earlier this year an eminent domain controversy swirled around Filipino Baptist Fellowship in Long Beach, Calif., as city officials threatened to demolish the church and build condominiums without providing church members a sufficient alternative meeting place. The city’s redevelopment agency eventually terminated its efforts to acquire the church building through eminent domain after many public outcries.

INDIAN CASINOS TO RECEIVE LESS OVERSIGHT — A recent ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has significantly diminished federal auditors’ ability to examine operations at Indian casinos, leaving room for increased corruption in the $22 billion industry, USA Today reported Nov. 30.

The National Indian Gaming Commission, which is part of the U.S. Department of Interior, said its auditors have been kept from conducting reviews of personnel and finances at Indian casinos after the court said their reach doesn’t extend much past bingo games.

An Arizona tribe argued that audits of Indian casinos should be done by states and tribes, not federal authorities, and the court agreed. USA Today said casinos account for about 88 percent of all gaming revenue among Indians.

NIGC officials are concerned about the recent development because some states and tribes are not able to provide enough oversight of the gaming businesses. The FBI is “deeply concerned” by the ruling, USA Today said, because if Indian gaming regulations are not regulated, the integrity of the industry is at risk. Others believe the ruling makes it much more difficult for the federal government to respond when evidence of misconduct is found.

In related news, the Seminole Tribe of Florida announced Dec. 7 it is purchasing the popular Hard Rock business, which includes 124 Hard Rock Cafes, four Hard Rock Hotels, two Hard Rock Casino Hotels and the world’s largest collection of rock memorabilia. The deal cost $965 million, according to the Associated Press. The Seminoles were the first U.S. tribe to enter the gambling business in 1979.

CULTURE LARGELY UNAWARE OF CHRISTIAN LEADERS — Some of the most well-known Christian leaders including Rick Warren and James Dobson are virtually unknown in the larger culture, according to a survey by The Barna Group conducted in October, and it could have negative implications for reaching a celebrity-driven culture.

“You cannot make a difference in someone’s life if you do not have entrée in that life,” George Barna said. “In our society, even clergy compete for people’s attention and acceptance. One of the reasons that the Christian faith is struggling to retain a toehold in people’s lives is because even the highest-profile leaders of the faith community have limited resonance with the population.

“The survey statistics [also] suggest that perhaps Christian individuals are more attuned to matters of culture and entertainment than to matters of faith,” Barna added. “People pay attention to what they deem important. These figures may be another indicator that millions of Christians invest more of their mental energy in cultural literacy than in biblical literacy.”

Actors Denzel Washington and Mel Gibson, TV personality Rosie O’Donnell and singer Britney Spears were more well-known in the survey than Warren and Dobson, even among Christians.

Three out of four adults in America said they had never heard of Warren, author of “The Purpose-Driven Life,” and two out of every three born again Christians didn’t know of him, according to the survey. Almost 57 percent of adults had not heard of Dobson, and nearly half of born again Christians could not place him, Barna found.

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  • Erin Roach