Lawyers fighting a court challenge of evolution disclaimers on textbooks defended the warning stickers in final arguments Friday as a show of tolerance — not religious activism, as some parents claimed.
U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper said he plans to rule “as quickly as possible” following the weeklong trial in the suburban Cobb County case. Attorneys are still filing paperwork and said any ruling was probably at least a month away.
The suit by parents and the American Civil Liberties Union claims that school officials violated the constitutional separation of church and state in 2002 when they placed disclaimer stickers calling evolution “a theory, not a fact” on high-school biology texts.
“The Cobb County school board is doing more than accommodating religion,” Michael Manely, an attorney for the parents, argued Friday. “They are promoting religious dogma to all students.”
Lawyers for Cobb County disagreed, saying the school board had made a good-faith effort to address questions that inevitably arise during the teaching of evolution.
“Science and religion are related and they’re not mutually exclusive,” Linwood Gunn said. “This sticker was an effort to get past that conflict and to teach good science.”
Complaints from 2,000 parents
The schools placed the stickers after more than 2,000 parents complained the textbooks presented evolution as fact, without mentioning rival ideas about the beginnings of life.
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.”
Manely argued that scientists officially consider all of their ideas theories.
“Maybe we need some more stickers,” he said, showing the judge tongue-in-cheek versions questioning gravity and Earth’s rotation around the sun.
“Of all the theories in all the world that are taught in Cobb County classrooms, only evolution is disclaimed,” he said.
Gunn said religious beliefs make the teaching of evolution different from other science lessons.
“I will grant you there are some people that (a sticker) may create some doubt in their mind,” Gunn said. “The fact that it promulgates doubt, if that’s true, does not mean that it promotes religion.”
The case is one of several battles waged in recent years in the Bible Belt over what role evolution should play in science books. Earlier this year, teachers howled when Georgia’s education chief proposed a science curriculum that dropped the word “evolution” in favor of “changes over time.” That plan was soon dropped.