Georgia School Board Drops Defense of Anti-Evolution Stickers
ATLANTA - The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia announced today that it has reached an agreement with the Cobb County School Board to keep controversial “Evolution Disclaimer” stickers out of biology textbooks in public schools, ending a legal challenge that began in 2002.
The anti-evolution stickers singled out the theory of evolution from all other scientific theories included in the textbooks. In 2005, the district court sided with the ACLU, stating that “the sticker sends a message to those who oppose evolution for religious reasons that they are favored members of the political community, while the sticker sends a message to those who believe in evolution that they are political outsiders.”
ACLU of Georgia Executive Director Debbie Seagraves welcomed the settlement.
“I commend the brave parents in Cobb County who have fought for more than four years to ensure that their children receive proper science education in their public schools,” said Seagraves. “We are proud that we were able to represent them in their courageous struggle.”
In the agreement, Cobb County school officials state that they will not order the placement of “any stickers, labels, stamps, inscriptions, or other warnings or disclaimers bearing language substantially similar to that used on the sticker that is the subject of this action.” School officials also agreed not to take other actions that would undermine the teaching of evolution in biology classes.
After the Cobb County School Board passed the sticker policy in 2002, school district parents, represented by the ACLU of Georgia and attorney Michael Manely, sued the school board, arguing that the policy promoted a particular religious belief in science classrooms and therefore violated the religious freedom of students. In early 2005, U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper agreed and ordered the school district to remove the stickers from its 35,000 biology textbooks.
The controversial 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."
After Judge Cooper’s decision, school officials removed the stickers, but asked the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to reverse the ruling. In late spring, the appeals court sent the case back to Judge Cooper requesting more information about the situation before ruling on the constitutionality of the sticker policy.
Jeffrey Selman, the Cobb County parent who led the charge against the anti-evolution disclaimer, said today’s settlement puts to rest a contentious struggle in the community.
“The settlement brings to an end a long battle to keep our science classes free of political or religious agendas,” Selman said. “I am very pleased that the Cobb school board has dropped its defense of the anti-evolution policy. The board should be commended for taking this action.”
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Atlanta law firm Bondurant, Mixon & Elmore, and Pepper Hamilton, a Philadelphia law firm, joined the ACLU of Georgia in handling the case on remand to the district court.
In a landmark case last year, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, along with Americans United and Pepper Hamilton, successfully argued against promoting the non-scientific ideology of “intelligent design” in public school science courses. On December 20, 2005, a federal judge ruled that intelligent design is not science and that the Dover Area School Board’s policy violated the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom.
Today’s case is Selman v. Cobb County School District.
For more information on the Dover, PA case and “intelligent design,” go to www.aclu.org/evolution.