Intersection of Life and Faith

School Board Abandons Evolution Textbook Stickers

  • Randy Hall Staff Writer/Editor
  • 2006 20 Dec
School Board Abandons Evolution Textbook Stickers
( - Four years after a Georgia school board placed stickers on its high school science books stating that evolution is "a theory, not a fact," the district agreed on Tuesday to abandon the ensuing legal battle with liberal groups.

"We are very pleased to reach this agreement and end the lawsuit," said Cobb County Board of Education Chair Dr. Teresa Plenge in a statement on Tuesday. "The board maintains that the stickers were constitutional, but, at the same time, the board clearly sees the need to put this divisive issue behind us.

"With this agreement, it is done, and we now have a clean slate going into the New Year," Plenge added. "There will be no stickers in textbooks, and, as always, we will continue to provide Cobb County students a curriculum that follows national and state standards in teaching science and the theory of evolution."

Under the settlement, the district will not attempt to place "any stickers, labels, stamps, inscriptions or other warnings or disclaimers bearing language substantially similar to that used on the sticker that is the subject of this action."

In return, the plaintiffs - the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State - have agreed to end all legal action against the school district.

In a separate agreement, the district has agreed to pay $166,659, which represents a portion of the plaintiff's legal fees.

"Cobb County school officials have taken the right step to ensure that their students receive a quality education," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Students should be taught sound science, and the curriculum should not be altered at the behest of aggressive religious groups."

"Since federal courts have ruled that creationism is religion and cannot be taught in public school science courses, religious right groups have sought ways to undermine the teaching of evolution and sneak discussion of religious beliefs on the origins of life into public school science courses," Lynn added. "Textbook disclaimers on evolution are one such tactic."

Jeffrey Selman, the Cobb County parent who led the charge against the anti-evolution disclaimer and president of the Georgia chapter of Americans United, said the settlement put to rest a contentious struggle over religious and political agendas.

"The settlement brings to an end a long battle to keep our science classes free of political or religious agendas," he said.

"I am very pleased that the Cobb school board has dropped its defense of the anti-evolution policy," Selman added. "The board should be commended for taking this action."

As Cybercast News Service previously reported, the school board passed the sticker policy in 2002 after a group of parents complained that evolution was being taught to the exclusion of other theories, including the biblical story of creation..

The stickers 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."

School district parents sued, arguing that the policy promoted religion in science classrooms and therefore violated the separation of church and state.

In 2005, U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper agreed and ordered the district to remove the stickers from its 35,000 biology textbooks. Earlier this year, a federal appeals court vacated Cooper's decision and sent the case back to the lower court.

"After the 11th Circuit Court vacated the decision, we faced the distraction and expense of starting all over with more legal actions and another trial," Plenge noted.

Richard Katskee, assistant legal director of Americans United, also applauded the school board's decision to settle the dispute.

"The school district can now place its focus squarely on providing a sound education to Cobb County students," he said.

Eric Rothschild, a partner in the Philadelphia office of Pepper Hamilton LLP, took on the case as part of the law firm's pro bono program.

"Cobb County School District's decision to settle the case shows the school board's desire to work for the best interest of their students," said Rothschild. "It was the right move and an admirable one."

Rothschild and Katskee are veterans of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, the case that last year struck down as unconstitutional the teaching of intelligent design in public schools.

"In both the Kitzmiller and Cobb County cases, parents have successfully stood up for their children's right to learn science, not religion, in science class," said Rothschild. "All students benefit from their courage."

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