- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2015

DOVER, Pa. (AP) - Griffin Sneath was a third-grader at Weigelstown Elementary when he and classmates would sometimes argue about evolution.

It was about a year after a federal judge ruled the Dover school district’s mention of intelligent design as an alternative to Darwin’s theory put religion into science class.

My parents told me I didn’t come from a monkey, they would say.

Actually, Griffin would reply, you did.

In October 2004, the Dover Area School Board, citing a need to make students “aware of gaps/problems” in Darwin’s theory of evolution, voted to add the mention of intelligent design to the ninth-grade biology curriculum. Intelligent design is the idea that life is so complex it must have required an “intelligent designer” to begin.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania and other groups sued on behalf of 11 parents, including Griffin’s mother. Intelligent design, they said, was creationism in disguise.

The lawsuit led to a trial in federal court that started 10 years ago this month, during which law, religion and culture intersected. The case resonated across the United States and the world.

Some called it the second Scopes Monkey Trial. “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart visited Dover for a series called “Evolution Schmevolution.” Darwin’s great-great grandson, Matthew Chapman, stopped by and eventually wrote a book about the controversy. PBS made a documentary about the case.

The judge wrote that intelligent design could not separate itself from its religious origins, and mentioning it in a public school science class was unconstitutional. He noted that the people of Dover were poorly served by the school board members who voted for the policy. The district ended up paying $1 million in legal fees.

But before ruling, on Nov. 4, 2005, the judge listened to closing arguments. Eric Rothschild, an attorney for the plaintiffs, brought the case back to someone he had met as the lawsuit unfolded.

He talked about Griffin Sneath. It was students like him, Rothschild thought, who brought home why the case mattered. Even at age 7, Griffin’s interest in science had started to take hold.

Griffin, Rothschild said, could “become anything right now.” He could be a science teacher in Dover or somewhere else, “turning students on to the wonders of the natural world and the satisfaction of scientific discovery.” Or, perhaps, he could be a renowned college professor - like many of the experts who testified for their side in the case.

“He might solve mysteries about the immune system because he refused to quit. He might even figure out something that changes the whole world,” Rothschild said, “like Charles Darwin.”

Every day, as part of Griffin’s grade-school routine, he would wake up and go to his parents’ room to say good morning.

But in the fall of 2005, his parents were getting up way earlier than ever.

They were putting on “fancy clothes,” Griffin recalled, and driving to Harrisburg to go to court. Everybody was talking about a lawsuit.

“My mom’s doing something really cool,” he remembers thinking. “I don’t know what it is. But she’s doing something really cool.”

One day in October, his mother, Cyndi Sneath, took the stand.

“Do you have a personal interest in science?” asked Witold “Vic” Walczak, the legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania and one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

“Not personally, no,” Cyndi Sneath said. “You know, I have an interest for my son, who actually shows a great interest in science.

“You know, don’t get him started on talking about the NASA space shuttle program,” she continued. “I mean, just everything he does is very science-oriented.”

Not long after the decision, during indoor recess in the third-grade, one of Griffin’s classmates asked him: “If I came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?”

Griffin went to the chalkboard. He drew an upside-down “v,” and then tried to explain the concept of the common ancestor - in elementary school terms.

“We’re down here, and here’s the monkeys,” he said, showing them the two separate paths. “And we evolved separately.”

In 2011, just before Griffin started high school, Cyndi Sneath was selected to be on ACLU of Pennsylvania’s Board of Directors.

In Dover, his mother and the 10 other plaintiffs had succeeded in keeping intelligent design out of biology class. But Griffin would end up taking the course at Central York High School, which he opted to attend largely due to its gifted program.

Only when he entered high school did Griffin - who was always connected to the intelligent design case - start to realize the significance of the decision.

He read the chapter on evolution in “Biology” by Ken Miller and Joseph Levine - the textbook the Dover Area School Board held up approving in 2004 because, as one member said, it was “laced with Darwinism.” Later, Griffin looked through the trial transcripts.

Now, in his ninth-grade civics class, they were starting to learn about the ACLU. Many students might not have known much about the organization before taking the class, he thought.

Then it hit him:

“Everything we went through wasn’t necessarily normal for most people.”

In September 2013, at Gullifty’s in Lower Allen Township, more than a dozen people gathered for a meeting of the southcentral chapter of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

Steve Stough, a plaintiff in the intelligent design case and a member of the chapter board, had been board secretary for four or five years and said he wanted to step down. At the previous meeting, Griffin - 15 years old, a high school sophomore who couldn’t drive yet - was nominated to be on the chapter’s board.

When Stough stopped talking, Griffin raised his hand.

“He basically said, ‘I would be interested in doing this.’ And we all said, ‘OK,’” Stough said. “And that’s basically how that came about.”

Today at Central York High School, Griffin is the president of the Model United Nations Club and plays trombone in marching band, among being involved in other activities.

He’s also part of Science Olympiad, a competition in which students participate in events about science. On April 25 at Juniata College, he took third place in the state in the cell biology event.

Matthew Hess, a ninth grade earth science teacher who’s in charge of the Science Olympiad program, has known Griffin since about halfway through his freshman year.

In early 2014, the team was heading to an invitational competition in Lehigh County. Members participate in one or several events, usually in pairs.

That day, it was snowing heavily, and a teammate didn’t make it. Before they left, Griffin went up to Hess.

“Hey, I know you’re down a person,” Griffin told him. “I can cover it. What do you need?”

“It was a problem for me,” Hess said, “for about three seconds.”

In April 2014, Griffin and his mother attended a ceremony put on by the National Center for Science Education at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. The center was presenting its “Friend of Darwin” award to four of the attorneys for the plaintiffs in the intelligent design case.

Griffin, riveted, listened as Steve Harvey and Kevin Padian - one an attorney who represented the plaintiffs, the other an expert witness, paleontologist and professor from the University of California, Berkeley - debated whether Darwin was first to discover evolution by natural selection.

And last summer, he did an internship at the ACLU of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg - the same organization that led the fight 10 years ago to stop intelligent design in Dover.

Now 17, Griffin has just started his senior year of high school, and is thinking about his future. He’s torn between trying to be a neurosurgeon or, because of his internship, a civil rights attorney.

But through the years, Griffin says, he has remembered the message the court heard 10 years ago on that November day:

He can become anything.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1UORnC6

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Information from: York Daily Record, http://www.ydr.com

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