ATLANTA -- A trial opened yesterday over whether a warning sticker in suburban Atlanta biology textbooks that says evolution is "a theory, not a fact" violates the separation of church and state by promoting religion.
The case is one of several battles that have been waged in recent years in the Bible Belt over what role evolution should play in science books. Cobb County schools put the disclaimers in biology textbooks two years ago after more than 2,000 parents complained that the books presented evolution as fact without mentioning rival ideas about the origin of life, namely creationism.
A group of parents and the American Civil Liberties Union then filed a lawsuit over the stickers. "It's like saying everything that follows this sticker isn't true," said Jeffrey Selman, a parent who filed the lawsuit.
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."
A lawyer for the school district, Linwood Gunn, said the sticker was meant to "encourage critical thinking," and said it did not imply that evolution was wrong. "It doesn't say anything about religion," he said.
But US District Judge Clarence Cooper asked Gunn why it is necessary to have a sticker clarify evolution as a theory. "Why put a sticker on the book when that's already in the book?"
Gunn said that school board members were only trying to accommodate all views. The first witness, parent Marjorie Rogers, started the drive to put the stickers in the books. She said it was only fair to put a disclaimer in a textbook where religious-based ideas about the origin of life are not mentioned.
The judge also heard from a science teacher who said some students point to the sticker and argue evolution is "just a theory." The sticker "diminishes the status of evolution among all other theories," Wes McCoy said.
The US Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that creationism was a religious belief that could not be taught in public schools along with evolution.