A federal judge has struck down a suburban Atlanta school district's policy of placing disclaimers about evolution in science textbooks, saying the policy violates the Constitution's ban on government establishment of religion.
United States District Judge Clarence Cooper issued a ruling Jan. 13 ordering the immediate removal of textbook stickers that caution evolution is “a theory, not a fact.” The disclaimer is placed in public school science texts in Cobb County, Ga.
The Atlanta-based judge said the school board's policy ordering the stickers be placed in middle school and high school textbooks sends “a message that the school board agrees with the beliefs of Christian fundamentalists and creationists.”
The ruling came in response to a group of Cobb County parents who filed a lawsuit against the school board asking for a halt to the policy.
Cooper, applying a test prescribed by a 1971 U.S. Supreme Court decision to determine if a government action violates the First Amendment's establishment clause, said a reasonable observer would conclude that the stickers represented the school board's endorsement of the religious view that God created the world a few thousand years ago in six literal days.
Such a reasonable observer, Cooper said, “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.”
In a preface to the opinion, Cooper took pains to note that his findings concern only a narrow legal issue and was not a pronouncement on other issues surrounding the controversy over the origin of species.
“First, the court is not resolving in this case whether science and religion are mutually exclusive, and the court takes no position on the origin of the human species,” Cooper wrote.
“Second, the issue before the court is not whether it is constitutionally permissible for public school teachers to teach intelligent design, the theory that only an intelligent or supernatural cause could be responsible for life, living things, and the complexity of the universe,” he continued. “Third, this case does not resolve the ongoing debate regarding whether evolution is a fact or theory or whether evolution should be taught as fact or theory.”
The policy stems from a petition drive organized by Cobb County parent Marjorie Rogers in 2002. Rogers, who according to the opinion describes herself as a “six-day biblical creationist,” had complained about the lack of a disclaimer in the textbooks.
But, Cooper noted, the board didn't order disclaimers regarding other theories that have some religious implications. “However, there are other scientific topics taught that have religious implications, such as the theories of gravity, relativity, and Galilean heliocentrism,” he wrote.
Associated Baptist Press