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Circuit Court Sends 'Textbook Sticker' Case Back to Lower Court

By Jim Brown
June 1, 2006

(AgapePress) - A federal appeals court has refused to rule on a lower-court decision that forced a suburban Atlanta school district to remove disclaimers about evolution from its science textbooks.

A three-judge panel of the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the district court decision because of an insufficient factual record. However, the Eleventh Circuit did not rule on the constitutional merits of Judge Clarence Cooper's January 2005 decision, which ordered the Cobb County School District to remove from about 35,000 biology textbook stickers that read, in part: "Evolution is a theory, not a fact ...."

Byron Babione is a senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.

"The sticker should have been perfectly constitutional," Babione contends. "In other words, it had a secular purpose -- it didn't advance any one or particular religion, and it didn't entangle government excessively with religion." Instead, says the attorney, it "simply promoted critical analysis with respect to the theory of evolution, as critical analysis is promoted with respect to any scientific theory."

Babione says although Judge Cooper said the disclaimers were motivated by an improper religious purpose, his ruling relied in part on a parental letter received by the school district after it had already put the stickers in the textbooks. According to the ADF attorney, the participation of Christians in the political process should not determine whether a law is constitutional.

"Whether you're a Christian or not a Christian, or whatever the worldview is that you subscribe to, under the Constitution you're allowed to participate in the political process," Babione says. "And I don't think district courts should be in the business of saying, 'Well, who was it that was trying to influence their legislatures? Were they from this religious group or were they not from that religious group?' That shouldn't even matter."

The stickers read, in full: "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."

Parents who sued the school district over the stickers argue the disclaimers violate the so-called "separation of church and state." But ADF contends no school should be prevented from just stating facts. In fact, says Joel Oster, another ADF attorney, "that's what schools are supposed to do."

Jim Brown, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is a reporter for American Family Radio News, which can be heard online.

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