Americans United Opposes Anti-evolution Stickers In Georgia School Case

Americans United has asked a federal appeals court to reject a religiously motivated move to undercut the teaching of evolution in Cobb County, Ga., public schools.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed in Cobb County School District v. Selman, Americans United advised the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the disclaimers pasted into science textbooks were included at the behest of fundamentalists who oppose evolution and want the public school curriculum to reflect their religious views.

Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, said the Cobb County school board should not be permitted to sacrifice appropriate science education to placate a vocal fundamentalist faction.

“The appeals court should tell the Cobb County School Board to quit playing with stickers and get back to providing sound science education that meets the needs of our children and the demands of the Constitution,” Lynn said. “Religious pressure groups must not be allowed to take control of the public schools.”

A federal district court ordered the Cobb County anti-evolution stickers removed, and now the appeals court is weighing the issue.

Joining Americans United on the brief are the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.

The brief notes that placement of the stickers came after community pressure from religious activists who oppose the teaching of evolution in public schools. The action was the latest in a long string of anti-evolution moves by education officials in Cobb County.

Observes the brief, “The Cobb County School Board has evinced a long-standing anti-evolution, pro-creationism bias. Since at least 1979 (until 2002), teaching about the ‘origin of human species’ was permitted only in elective high-school classes and was excluded entirely from the elementary-school and middle-school curricula.”

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 AU brief rejects claims that the school board had a secular reason for using the sticker.

“The School Board acted not to promote critical thinking in general, but to cause ‘students to consider critically information regarding evolution to try to determine its validity,’” Americans United asserts. “The School Board thus singled out evolution for negative treatment, as no disclaimer relating to any other theory, topic, or subject is placed on any Cobb County school textbook.”

The AU brief was drafted by Alex J. Luchenitser, senior litigation counsel for Americans United, and Meir Feder of the national law firm Jones Day, legal counsel for the American Jewish Committee. A wide array of other science, education, religious and civil liberties groups also filed briefs asking the appeals court to rule against the anti-evolution stickers.

In other news about creationism:

• A member of the Kansas Board of Education has issued a letter calling evolution a “fairy tale” that shows “anti-God contempt and arrogance.”

In a four-page letter to her constituents in western Kansas, board member Connie Morris blasted scientists who support evolution, writing, “In short, Darwin’s theory of evolution is biologically, genetically, mathematically, chemically, metaphysically and etc. wildly and utterly impossible.”

Morris also criticized moderate board members who oppose creationism. She singled out member Sue Gamble by name, calling her “continually disruptive and rude.”

Religious conservatives have a six-to-four majority on the board. Last month the board majority held a courtroom-like hearing putting Darwinism on trial. This summer, the board is expected to pass a new policy watering down the teaching of evolution in the state.

Gamble told the Kansas City Star that Morris’ attacks on her are “most inappropriate.”

Morris is a former elementary school teacher. She and her husband currently own a farm and plumbing business in St. Francis, Kan.

• The Smithsonian Institution has dropped its plan to cosponsor the showing of a film promoting neo-creationist “intelligent design” (ID) ideas.

In a June 1 statement, Smithsonian officials ditched plans to cosponsor the “The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe,” which is based on a book promoting intelligent design by Iowa State University astronomy professor Guillermo Gonzalez.

The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based group that promotes ID, had entered into a partnership with the Smith­sonian’s Museum of Natural His­tory to show the film June 23 by offering a screening fee of $16,000.

Smithsonian officials dropped the plan after complaints from science groups, although it permitted the Dis­covery Institute to use a museum theater for a private showing of the film.

• A public high school teacher in Wash­­ington County, Va., who has been dis­­tributing a homemade book attacking evo­lution for 15 years has been ordered to stop.

Larry Booher made copies of the book, titled Creation Battles Evolution, for students in his Biology 2 classes at John S. Battle High School. The book, compiled from various sources, contained articles arguing that the Earth is young and other creationist ideas. It calls evolution “a Satanic delusion.” Booher did not require students to read the book but gave extra credit to those who did.

Booher’s activities came to light after an anonymous person called the school and informed staff about the book. When confronted, Booher agreed that he had been wrong, although he insisted he had not meant to promote religion.

“I don’t teach like a Sunday school teacher would teach,” he told the Roanoke Times & World News. “The approach is to teach both positions from a scientific basis.”

County School Superintendent Alan Lee directed Booher to stop distributing the book and scheduled a special day-long session for teachers on separation of church and state.