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Judge: Evolution stickers unconstitutional

Markers in science textbooks violated church-state separation


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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- A federal judge in Atlanta, Georgia, has ruled that a suburban county school district's textbook stickers referring to evolution as "a theory not a fact" are unconstitutional.

In ruling that the stickers violate the constitutionally mandated separation between church and state, U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper ruled that labeling evolution a "theory" played on the popular definition of the word as a "hunch" and could confuse students.

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."

The disclaimers were put in the books by school officials in 2002.

"Due to the manner in which the sticker refers to evolution as a theory, the sticker also has the effect of undermining evolution education to the benefit of those Cobb County citizens who would prefer that students maintain their religious beliefs regarding the origin of life," Cooper wrote in his ruling.

Cooper said he was ruling on the "narrow issue" of the case, brought against the Cobb County School District and Board of Education by four parents of district students, was whether the district's stickers violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

His conclusion, he said, "is not that the school board should not have called evolution a theory or that the school board should have called evolution a fact."

"Rather, the distinction of evolution as a theory rather than a fact is the distinction that religiously motivated individuals have specifically asked school boards to make in the most recent anti-evolution movement, and that was exactly what parents in Cobb County did in this case," he wrote.

"By adopting this specific language, even if at the direction of counsel, the Cobb County School Board appears to have sided with these religiously motivated individuals."

The sticker, he said, sends "a message that the school board agrees with the beliefs of Christian fundamentalists and creationists."

"The school board has effectively improperly entangled itself with religion by appearing to take a position," Cooper wrote. "Therefore, the sticker must be removed from all of the textbooks into which it has been placed."

Five parents of students and the American Civil Liberties Union had challenged the stickers in court, arguing they violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

The case was heard in federal court last November. The school system defended the warning stickers as a show of tolerance, not religious activism as some parents claimed.

"The Cobb County school board is doing more than accommodating religion," Michael Manely, an attorney for the parents, argued during the trial, according to a report from The Associated Press. "They are promoting religious dogma to all students."

Lawyers for Cobb County, however, argued in court that 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," school district attorney Linwood Gunn said in an AP report. "This sticker was an effort to get past that conflict and to teach good science."

According to the AP, 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.



Copyright 2005 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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