Selman v. Cobb County School District

Last modified 2011.09.15

  • Status Closed
  • Type Counsel
  • Court U.S. Court of Appeals, U.S. District Court
  • Issues Public Schools, Religious Minorities, Teaching Religion in Public Schools

The Cobb County School District passed a policy in March 2002 requiring that all biology textbooks bear a sticker stating, “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.”

Parents of students in the School District filed a lawsuit challenging this anti-evolution disclaimer in federal court. The district court held after trial that the disclaimer was adopted for the secular purpose of accommodating religious objections, but that it had the unconstitutional effect of endorsing religion.

The School District appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. On June 9, 2005, Americans United, joined by the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, filed an amicus curiae brief in the Eleventh Circuit in support of the plaintiffs. The amicus brief argued that although the district court had correctly found that the disclaimer had an unconstitutional effect, it had erred when it held that placating religiously motivated objectors is a secular purpose; and therefore, the court’s decision should be upheld not only because the disclaimer has a religious effect but also because it was enacted with a religious purpose. In November 2005, we submitted a notice of supplemental authority to the Eleventh Circuit, arguing that the Supreme Court’s decision in McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky supported the points in our amicus brief.

Oral argument was held on December 15, 2005. On May 25, 2006, the Court of Appeals vacated the district court’s ruling and remanded for a clarification of the trial record, which it found to be insufficient to permit appellate review of the district court’s decision.

Following the Eleventh Circuit’s decision, AU agreed to serve as lead counsel in representing the plaintiffs. The parties attended a status conference in the summer of 2006, at which plaintiffs asked the court to reopen discovery and hold a new trial in order to address the Eleventh Circuit’s concerns about the trial record. The court granted both requests. We served new written discovery, deposition notices, and expert reports.

Before any new depositions were taken, however, the parties reached a settlement in mid-December 2006. Under the resulting consent order, the School District is prohibited from (1) reattaching to science textbooks the evolution-disclaimer stickers or any other statements regarding evolution, Charles Darwin, creation science, intelligent design, or any other religious view concerning the origins of life or the origins of human beings; (2) making any disclaimers regarding evolution orally, in writing, or by any other means; (3) excising or redacting materials on evolution in students’ science textbooks; and (4) violating state educational standards regarding the teaching of evolution. Should the School District violate any of these provisions, the case will be reopened and the school district may be liable for all attorneys’ fees accrued since the start of the case.

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