Students and community members alike gathered at Southern Oregon University by the hundreds last Thursday and Friday to attend a lecture and seminar by Judge John E. Jones III.
The presentations by Jones kicked off this year’s campus theme of Civility. The first event, titled “From Scopes to Kitzmiller: Civility and Incivility at the intersection of Science, Religion, and Law,” was held Thursday in the Music Hall, and the second presentation, “Judicial Opinions and Civil Discourse: Is it Judicial Activism or Simply a Decision I Don’t Like?” was held Friday in the Stevenson Union’s Rogue River Room.
Jones was appointed to the bar in Pennsylvania by George W. Bush, and is most commonly know for residing over the controversial court case Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District in 2005, where he ruled that it was unconstitutional to teach the theory of intelligent design in publicly funded schools.
In Thursday’s talk, Jones explained that teaching creationism was made nationally illegal in 1947 in the landmark Supreme Court case Everson v. Board of Education. Over time the verbiage evolved, creationism became creation science, and when that was not legally accepted, the term “intelligent design” emerged. The Dover School Board, which taught intelligent design to counterbalance evolution,debated the issue before Jones for six weeks. He was heavily scrutinized for his decision, and accused of ruling based on his personal beliefs.
Judson Risteau, a Medford resident who attended the first talk, said he attended under the assumption that Jones would be sharing his opinions about the 2005 case.
“I don’t know if he believes in creationism or not,” said Risteau. “He didn’t talk about his views on the case, he talked about the way that people reacted to it: aggressively and, like he said, uncivilly.”
Following the ruling, Jones was coined an “activist judge,” ostracized by the media, and received death threats which caused a constant need for protection. He explained that he was not an activist judge, but that “the case was a result of an activist school board,” and that although opinions are always subject to criticism, “judges are not accountable to the public will, but are accountable to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”
The foundation of his seminars was the lack of civility in the public’s response to the verdict, the urging of civility and embraced intellectualism, and the danger of biased and uniformed opinions.
Jones closed the Friday seminar by urging the public to “listen carefully, and perhaps for an extended period of time, before forming judgments.”
The theme of civility will continue at the SOU campus through the remainder of the school year. At the next event, SOU Psychology Professor Doug Smith, California State University professor of Education Psychology Uanh Tran, and Victor Chang and Matt Vogel of the SOU Student Health and Wellness Center will be giving a talk titled “Fostering Civility in Youth,” held on Oct. 27 in the Meese Room of the Hannon Library.
Additional talks are scheduled throughout the term, including “Difficult Dialogues: Cultivating Civility and Mutual Understanding at Home and Abroad,” on Nov. 3, and “Civility, Democracy, and Conflict,” on Nov. 17.