Santorum's intelligent design flip-flop

The Christian right learns what the rest of us knew -- Santorum can't be trusted.

By Michelle Goldberg

Published December 27, 2005 5:19PM (EST)

The Christian right is getting angry with Rick Santorum. The Pennsylvania Senator has long been one of the movement's most stalwart allies in Washington, but as his prospects for reelection plummet, he's flip-flopping like mad to lose the taint of extremism that's putting off moderate voters. Once a vehement supporter of intelligent design, Santorum has suddenly turned against it, resigning from the advisory board of the Thomas More Law Center, the ultra-right legal outfit that represented the anti-evolution school board in Dover, Penn.

During Bush's first term, Santorum tried to attach an amendment to the No Child Left Behind act that would encourage the teaching of intelligent design. It said, "[W]here topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society." The statement was eventually adopted as part of the Conference Report on the law, which meant it has advisory power only.

Santorum's intent was to give evolution's opponents the government's backing. In 2002, when Ohio debated adding intelligent design to its statewide science standards, Santorum penned a Washington Times op-ed supporting the change. He quoted his amendment and then wrote, "If the Education Board of Ohio does not include intelligent design in the new teaching standards, many students will be denied a first-rate science education. Many will be left behind."

Now the Senator has left that stance behind. In the past he praised the Dover school board's anti-evolution activism, but in recent days he's turned critical, telling the Philadelphia Inquirer and other outlets that intelligent design has no place in the science classroom. He's even said he agrees in part with the scathingly anti-ID opinion handed down by Judge John Jones in the Dover case. Santorum seems to have been alarmed by the defeat of the pro-ID Dover school board by a Democratic slate -- especially since Dover is a town so Republican that ordinarily the only meaningful elections are the primaries.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Santorum's "leading Democratic challenger, state Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr., has seized upon the senator's seemingly contradictory statements on intelligent design to portray him as a 'flip flopper' who puts an ideological agenda above other interests."

The Casey camp aren't the only ones appalled by Santorum's vacillating. The Pennsylvania chapter of Don Wildmon's American Family Association -- the fundamentalist pressure group famous for its boycott of Ford, American Girl dolls, Disneyland and other decadent subversives -- is furious. In a statement, the group said, " Senator Rick Santorums agreement with Judge John Jones decision concerning the Dover Area School District s policy pertaining to Evolution and Intelligent Design is yet another example of why conservatives can no longer trust the Senator." The group noted that "[I]n his Dec. 25, 2004 guest column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Senator Santorum wrote, 'I commend the Dover Area School District for taking a stand and refusing to ignore the controversy.' The AFA of PA has to again question the Senators total about face on the issue. Which is it  you commend the Dover Area School District or you commend Judge John E. Jones?"

Michelle Goldberg

Michelle Goldberg is a frequent contributor to Salon and the author of "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism" (WW Norton).

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