Georgia evolution debate goes to trial

/ Source: The Associated Press

A federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit against a school district's practice of posting disclaimers inside science textbooks saying evolution is "a theory, not a fact."

The Cobb County schools' disclaimer, in the form of a sticker on the inside front cover of textbooks, could have the effect of advancing or inhibiting religion, U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper ruled in ordering the suit to go to trial.

"We're very excited about this," said attorney Michael Manely, who represents the six Cobb County parents who sued the system in August 2002.

The lawsuit argues that the disclaimer restricts the teaching of evolution, promotes and requires the teaching of creationism and discriminates against particular religions.

The sticker reads: "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 judge weighed the constitutionality of the issue by applying a three-pronged test handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971. In order to get the lawsuit dismissed, the school board had to show that the disclaimer was adopted with a secular purpose; that its primary effect neither advances nor inhibits religion; and that it does not result in an excessive entanglement of government with religion.

In his order signed last Wednesday, Cooper said the school board satisfied him on the first issue.

But he noted that while the disclaimer has no biblical reference, it encourages students to consider alternatives other than evolution. The judge found that the disclaimer could have the effect of advancing or inhibiting religion.

"Indeed, most of the board members concurred that they wanted students to consider other alternatives," Cooper wrote.

The theory of evolution, accepted by most scientists, says evidence shows current species of life evolved over time from earlier forms and that natural selection determines which species survive. Creationism credits the origin of species to God.

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