A federal appeals panel Thursday questioned the accuracy of a judge's ruling that a disclaimer in school textbooks describing evolution as "a theory, not a fact" represents an endorsement of religion.
"I don't think you all can contest any of the sentences" on the disclaimer sticker, Judge Ed Carnes of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals told an attorney arguing for parents who sued.
"It is a theory, not a fact; the book supports that," Carnes said.
The lower court in January ordered a suburban Atlanta school district to remove the stickers. The judge, Clarence Cooper, wrote the disclaimer "conveys an impermissible message of endorsement and tells some citizens that they are political outsiders while telling others they are political insiders."
Cobb County schools attorney Linwood Gunn argued Thursday that Cooper misconstrued the school board's intention, which he said was to allay community concerns while teaching good science.
"There's nothing religious in the case except constituents' beliefs or presumed beliefs," Gunn said.
Jeffrey Bramlett, arguing for the American Civil Liberties Union and parents, cited the book's author, Kenneth Miller, who testified it would be misleading to say evolution is not a fact.
That sticker "was like a cigarette warning to kids, singling out this one thing from everything in the entire book," ACLU Georgia legal director Gerry Weber said outside court.
Carnes, considered one of the court's most conservative members, was joined on the panel by Judge Frank Hull, a Clinton appointee, and Judge William Pryor, a controversial appointment last year by President Bush.
The panel did not indicate when it would rule.
The stickers were placed on about 35,000 books in suburban Cobb County in 2002 and 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."
The Cobb County case is one of several that have pushed the teaching of evolution into the national spotlight.
In Pennsylvania, a federal judge has yet to decide whether Dover schools may require "intelligent design" be taught in ninth-grade biology classes.
In Kansas, state education officials recently cleared the way for schools to teach "intelligent design," which says the universe is so complex it must have been created by a higher power. Critics say it's creationism disguised as science.
Last year, Georgia's state schools superintendent proposed a statewide science curriculum that dropped the word "evolution" in favor of "changes over time," but the plan was quickly scrapped amid protests by teachers.