In 2002, a suburban county school district in Georgia placed stickers in their text books after more than 2,000 parents complained the textbooks presented evolution as fact, without mentioning rival ideas about the beginnings of life (such as Intelligent Design or Special 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.”
Five parents of students and the American Civil Liberties Union had challenged the stickers in court, arguing they violated the “constitutional separation of church and state.”
The Judge hearing the case said: “Due to the manner in which the sticker refers to evolution as a theory, the sticker also has the effect of undermining evolution education to the benefit of those Cobb County citizens who would prefer that students maintain their religious beliefs regarding the origin of life,” Cooper wrote in his ruling. He decided in January 2005 that the district’s stickers violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
His conclusion, he said, “is not that the school board should not have called evolution a theory or that the school board should have called evolution a fact.” “Rather, the distinction of evolution as a theory rather than a fact is the distinction that religiously motivated individuals have specifically asked school boards to make in the most recent anti-evolution movement, and that was exactly what parents in Cobb County did in this case,” he wrote.
“By adopting this specific language, even if at the direction of counsel, the Cobb County School Board appears to have sided with these religiously motivated individuals.” The sticker, he said, sends “a message that the school board agrees with the beliefs of Christian fundamentalists and creationists. The school board has effectively improperly entangled itself with religion by appearing to take a position,” Cooper wrote. “Therefore, the sticker must be removed from all of the textbooks into which it has been placed.”
“Science and religion are related and they’re not mutually exclusive,” school district attorney Linwood Gunn said. “This sticker was an effort to get past that conflict and to teach good science.”
Should we have freedom of religion — or freedom from religion? The ACLU thinks the latter.
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