updated 11/11/2004 4:33:40 PM ET 2004-11-11T21:33:40

First, Georgia’s education chief tried to take the word “evolution” out of the state’s science curriculum. Now a suburban Atlanta county is in federal court over textbook stickers that call evolution “a theory, not a fact.”

Some here worry that Georgia is making itself look like a bunch of rubes or, worse, discrediting its own students.

“People want to project the image that Georgia is a modern state, that we’re in the 21st century. Then something like this happens,” said Emory University molecular biologist Carlos Moreno.

Tiff over textbook stickers
The federal lawsuit being heard this week in Atlanta concerns whether the constitutional separation of church and state was violated when suburban Cobb County school officials placed the disclaimer stickers in high school biology texts in 2002. The stickers say evolution should be “critically considered.”

Earlier this year, science teachers howled when state Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox proposed a new science curriculum that dropped the word “evolution” in favor of “changes over time.”

That plan was quickly dropped, but comic Jimmy Fallon still cracked wise on “Saturday Night Live”: “As a compromise, dinosaurs are now called ‘Jesus Horses.’”

Those who support the Cobb County stickers testified this week that they are aiming for a more open-minded education for students.

“I think the (evolution) theory is atheistic. And it’s all that’s presented. It’s an insult to their intelligence that they’re only taught evolution,” said Marjorie Rogers, the parent who first complained about the biology texts.

Shades of the Scopes Trial
Some scientists say they are frustrated the issue is still around nearly 80 years since the Scopes Monkey Trial — the historic case heard in neighboring Tennessee over the teaching of evolution instead of the biblical story of creation.

“We’re really busy. We have a lot to do. And here we are, having to go through this 19th-century argument over and over again,” said Sarah Pallas, who teaches biology and neuroscience at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

Moreno and dozens of other science instructors, along with the county superintendent, argued that the stickers only make the state look backward. And high school teacher Wes McCoy worried the issue could tarnish his students.

“I didn’t want college admission counselors thinking less of their science educations, thinking they hadn’t been taught evolution or something,” McCoy testified.

Moreno recalled how, after graduating from Georgia public schools, he headed north to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, only to find that people were less than kind about his educational roots.

“They felt Southerners were not only less well educated, but less intelligent,” Moreno said.

Doughnut shop worker Maria Jordan, 48, said her Atlanta customers were shaking their heads over the latest dispute. “Lord, don’t we have more important things to worry about?” she asked. “It’s just a flat-out embarrassment.”

As for what they are saying elsewhere around the country, she said: “Whatever Georgia’s getting up north, we’re putting it on ourselves.”

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