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Cobb County to Appeal Selman Verdict


On January 17, 2005, the Cobb County School Board voted 5-2 to appeal the ruling in Selman et al. v. Cobb County School District et al., which ordered the removal of evolution disclaimers from the school district's textbooks. Announcing the decision, Kathie Johnstone, chair of the board, described Judge Clarence Cooper's ruling as an "unnecessary judicial intrusion into local control of schools."

In his ruling, issued on January 13, Judge Cooper applied the so-called Lemon test to conclude that the disclaimer violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Although he was satisfied that the Cobb County School Board's purpose in requiring the sticlaimer was not exclusively to promote religion, he wrote that "an informed, reasonable observer would interpret the Sticker to convey a message of endorsement of religion," citing its description of evolution as "a theory, not a fact" as the decisive phrase.

The ruling was greeted with applause from Georgia's scientific and education communities. "Obviously, this is quite a victory for good science education," Benjamin Z. Freed, an anthropology professor at Emory University in Atlanta and chairman of Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education, told CNN. And George Stickel, who supervises Cobb's high school science curriculum, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "To really understand biology, [students] need to understood what evolution is all about."

The state's newspapers were also pleased with the ruling. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote in an editorial, "What Cooper's actually done is safeguard religious freedom by halting the campaign by creationists to convert public school classrooms into indoctrination chambers," while the Marietta Daily Journal suggested, "the Cobb school board would do well to leave the teaching of science to the science teachers and the teaching of religion-based scientific theories to those in the pulpit."

After a closed three-hour session with its lawyers, however, the Cobb County Board of Education decided to appeal the ruling as well as to ask for a stay of Cooper's order to remove the disclaimer. Johnstone said that the appeal would present "no additional cost to the district or Cobb County taxpayers"; the board's legal counsel has agreed to pursue the case at no additional charge to the district. The appeal will go before the Eleventh US District Court of Appeals.

Story in the Marietta Daily Journal