In 2002, the Cobb County School District in Georgia, USA, adopted a policy to place disclaimer stickers in the front of its high-school biology textbooks that present evolutionary ideas, but caution the readers that evolution is “not a fact, regarding the origin of living things.” Now that decision by the school district is being challenged in U.S. federal court by six parents of Cobb students and the left-leaning American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who declare that the sticker pushes creationism and discriminates against non-Christians and followers of a number of other religions.1
Will the sticker stick? That is the question that will be answered at the end of the court case, Selman v. Cobb County School District, currently taking place (and ending today, Friday) in Cobb County, Georgia. A question is whether or not the sticker supposedly violates the so-called “separation of church and state” by promoting religion.
What’s all the fuss about a little sticker? It has to do with the 33 words printed on it (see image, right).
The federal trial over this constitutional issue is expected to address the following questions:
- Is Intelligent Design (a leading alternate theory that purports that the variety of life results from a purposeful design guided by a higher intelligent being—read AiG’s Cautionary Views of the ID Movement) religious?
- And if the theory is found to be religious, do the disclaimers, which don’t mention religion or Intelligent Design by name, violate the separation between church and state?3
As reported on November 8, 2004, by the British paper (yes, this Georgia issue is making international headlines), the Guardian Unlimited, Linwood Gunn, a lawyer for the suburban Atlanta school system, testified in U.S. District Court in Atlanta on Monday (Nov. 8), saying the sticker was meant to “encourage critical thinking” and said that it did not imply that evolution was wrong. Gunn said it was silly to consider the stickers a promotion of religion.4
Lawyers for the ACLU, however, argued that the school board had demonstrated a clear bias about the material in its textbooks and should remove the stickers.5
Attorney Seth Cooper, an expert on the legal aspects of teaching evolution, said in a November 8 press release posted by Yahoo News, that “it’s astonishing that the ACLU opposes having students study evolution ‘with an open mind.’”6
“The ACLU is supposed to be against censorship and favor the free marketplace of ideas, but here it is dogmatically trying to censor a school district from encouraging an open-minded approach to teaching evolution,” Cooper added, who is also a program officer with the Seattle, Washington-based Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture.7
In Monday’s opening statements, ACLU lawyer Margaret F. Garrett told U.S. District Court Judge Clarence Cooper that “the disclaimer’s wording is actually an endorsement of religion and it makes evolution seem unsound and unsupported.” She added that while the school board said it only wanted students to consider “alternative” theories of evolution, almost all alternate theories are based on religious belief.8
Attorney Cooper pointed out that the textbook sticker does not deal with creationism or even alternative scientific theories to evolution: “It merely encourages students to avoid dogmatism when studying evolution by carefully and critically examining the evidence with an open mind.” He goes on to say that this sort of critical inquiry is the heart of what science is supposed to be about.9
Reinforcing that belief is the backing of over 30 scientists who submitted a legal brief to the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Georgia. The brief said “the courts should not prevent educators from encouraging students to approach the study of evolution with an open mind.”10
Attorney and counsel for the parents against the sticker, Michael Manley, who sees the case shaping up much like a 21st-century Scopes trial, said that “although the sticker makes no mention of God or religion, it is a disclaimer for the only accepted scientific explanation of the origin of life.”11
“Evolution is the underpinning of all life sciences,” said Manley in a Yahoo News report. “Stating that evolution is only a theory is a covert way of prompting students to discuss the existence of God and to proselytize religious theories of the origins of humankind.”
During court sessions, Gunn explained the stickers were inserted as part of the board’s decision to have evolutionary science taught in Cobb high schools. For the Cobb district, it was “a radical revision of its former policy,”12which he acknowledged was the result of a previous school board’s decisions to “cater to people’s religious faith, maybe even in a way that was unconstitutional.”13
Manley said that he had hoped this would be a battle of experts from the very beginning. “Let the judge decide where the facts lie,” he told the Fulton County Daily Report.
Gunn has a different view, saying the case will be far more narrow in scope than Manley suggests, and should not be used as a vehicle to validate evolution or challenge creationism.14
“They want to have this as a big show trial,” Gunn told Fulton County Daily Report in a November 5 article. “It’s not going to be about that. It’s going to be about what the Cobb County school district did in strengthening its evolution curriculum,” he added.
That scares Marjorie Rogers, a parent of Cobb County students (before moving them to private school), who led the efforts in the petition drive that prompted the school system to put evolution disclaimers on the inside front cover of the science textbooks used in middle and high schools. It wasn’t her first choice though, stating that she had first recommended other options such as providing supplemental information or providing students with an elective course on alternative theories to evolution.
In a phone interview, Rogers, an admitted six-day creationist and AiG supporter, stated that one of her main concerns was that the new science textbooks would be accurate. When invited to review the textbooks, along with other parents, she was shocked to see content, like the peppered moth and Haeckel’s embryos, still included long after evolutionists themselves have questioned the errors
Rogers said it’s ironic that some of the six parents complain that seeing the disclaimer offends them, when the school district requires the use of book covers on its books and thus the disclaimer sticker is actually partially covered.
Tip of the iceberg—others to follow suit?
Manley told the Fulton County Daily Report the Cobb school district is one of dozens across the nation “bowing to pressure to omit or remove evolution from high-school science curricula” [Note: This is a red herring, for AiG is not aware of a single serious effort currently underway to remove evolution from any science curricula], or include religious-based teachings in academic coursework. “We are just the tip of the iceberg.”
One such example is the Grantsburg School District in Wisconsin, which recently passed a motion permitting “various theories/models of origins” to be incorporated into its science curriculum.
Unlike the states of Kansas and Ohio, where motions were overturned, Grantsburg is active—making the public school board the only district in the nation to allow theories other than evolution to be taught in the classroom.15
Whether it’s a picture book offering a “different view” on the origin of Grand Canyon or a small sticker that challenges the theory of evolution on biology textbooks, some evolutionists are doing everything in their power to protect their fallible ideas from being questioned, as witnessed by this court case and the ongoing attempt to ban the photo-illustrated creationist book Grand Canyon: A Different View from being sold at Grand Canyon National Park bookstores (see The Great Divide Continues).
Censorship is something many evolutionists are practiced in and know far too well, especially when it comes to the public schools (where, by and large, the creationist position is outlawed), reports AiG–USA president, Ken Ham. “Evolutionists know, and from our experience we’ve found, that as soon as students hear the creationist interpretation and how observational science supports it, they can see the flaws in the evolutionists’ philosophy.”
What the ACLU, school boards, most evolutionists, and even some Christians fail to see (or at least admit) is the real debate is not about “science versus religion.” Evolution is a religion and it isn’t science (see The Religion of Evolution). When it comes to the origin of life, evolution isn’t a fact or a theory that can be proved by scientists who weren’t there. Rather it’s an unprovable “hypothesis” or “guess,” based on a worldview without God. Evolution is a religious system (without God) that allows man to live according to his rules, not his Creator’s rules.
While it would be very encouraging to see the sticker stick in this important court case, in the long run, the battle is really much bigger than fighting school boards and organizations like the ACLU. This battle between worldviews (evolution vs. six-day creation account) is really about seeing our society return back to biblical authority, beginning with the church.
That’s why we spend so much energy at AiG to equip the church to restore biblical authority beginning with Genesis. Then and only then will change stick permanently.