A federal court in Georgia today struck down a policy in Cobb County public schools that required pasting a sticker critical of evolution in biology textbooks.
The court held that the anti-evolution disclaimer was clearly adopted after a pressure campaign mounted by fundamentalists who oppose the teaching of evolution.
Observed U. S. District Judge Clarence Cooper, "In this case, the Court believes that an informed, reasonable observer would interpret the Sticker to convey a message of endorsement of religion. That is, the Sticker sends a message to those who oppose evolution for religious reasons that they are favored members of the political community, while the Sticker sends a message to those who believe in evolution that they are political outsiders."
The sticker read, "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."
Critics said the clear aim of the sticker was to instill doubts about the validity of evolution in the minds of students. They noted that no other scientific theories were singled out for such treatment.
Board members insisted that they were not motivated by religion. Board President Johnny Johnson said he considered evolution, creationism, "intelligent design" and the idea that life on Earth was seeded by an asteroid to be of equal weight.
But the court was not persuaded and found that the board was moved to adopt the sticker due to pressure from religiously conservative Cobb County citizens who opposed the teaching of evolution.
"While evolution is subject to criticism, particularly with respect to the mechanism by which it occurred, this Sticker misleads students regarding the significance and value of evolution in the scientific community for the benefit of the religious alternatives," wrote Cooper. "By denigrating evolution, the School Board appears to be endorsing the well-known prevailing alternative theory, creationism or variations thereof, even though the Sticker does not specifically reference any alternative theories."
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, hailed the ruling.
"This is a great decision with national significance," Lynn said. "These textbook disclaimers are part of a national campaign to undercut the teaching of evolution in public schools in accordance with fundamentalist Christian beliefs. Today' court decision will throw a major roadblock in the path of that crusade. Public schools may not be used to advance religious dogma, and the court has rightly upheld that principle"
The Georgia case, Selman v. Cobb County School District , was brought by the Georgia affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union. The Cobb County parents were represented by ACLU attorney Maggie Garrett, a former legal fellow at Americans United.