updated 11/8/2004 3:56:32 PM ET 2004-11-08T20:56:32

A warning sticker in suburban Atlanta science textbooks that says evolution is “a theory, not a fact” was challenged in court Monday as an unlawful promotion of religion.

The disclaimer was adopted by Cobb County school officials in 2002 after hundreds of parents signed a petition criticizing the textbooks for treating evolution as fact without discussing alternate theories, including creationism.

“The religious views of some that contradict science cannot dictate curriculum,” American Civil Liberties Union attorney Maggie Garrett argued Monday before U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper. The trial is expected to last several days.

But a lawyer for Cobb County schools, Linwood Gunn, held up a copy of a textbook’s table of contents Monday that showed dozens of pages about evolution.

“The sticker doesn’t exist independently of the 101 pages about evolution,” Gunn said. “This case is not about a sticker which has 33 words on it. ... It’s about textbooks that say a lot more than that.”

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.”

One of the parents who filed the lawsuit, Jeffrey Selman, said the stickers discredit the science of evolution.

“It’s like saying everything that follows this sticker isn’t true,” he said.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that creationism was a religious belief that could not be taught in public schools along with evolution.

Gunn said he expects the warning will hold up in court, saying it “provides a unique opportunity for critical thinking.”

“It doesn’t say anything about faith,” Gunn said. “It doesn’t say anything about religion.”

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