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"Ruling ought to stick"


Writing for the editorial board of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (May 31, 2006), Mike King reacted to the recent ruling by a three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals which vacated the decision in Selman v. Cobb County and remanded the case to the trial court for further evidential proceedings. Judge Cooper, he wrote, "was correct in his initial ruling last year when he decided that the stickers, which disclaimed evolution as a 'theory, not a fact,' constituted an endorsement of religious belief. Nonetheless, going back to court is the right thing to do. Teachers in America's classrooms need to have this trumped-up, pseudo-scientific 'controversy' settled once and for all, and local school boards need to be told in no uncertain terms that they can't bend the Constitution to pacify vocal religious advocates."

Although the appeals court was concerned about the evidence that the Cobb County school board adopted the stickers as a result of pressure from local parents, King observed that Marjorie Rogers, a local creationist parent, acknowledged that her petition was submitted to the board before the stickers were adopted and that her group advocated stickers warning students about evolution. He added, "the board had numerous options short of the stickers. It could have rejected the textbooks in question, or provided additional instructional material to science teachers about how to handle students who had a differing viewpoint. Instead, it chose to single out evolution with the warning sticker, thereby inviting students to question it more thoroughly than other theories discussed in the texts. That's where the school board crossed the line."

Following the initial ruling in Selman, the stickers were painstakingly removed, with the aid of putty knives and glue remover, from approximately 34,000 textbooks, during the summer of 2005. "Fortunately," King reports, "there doesn't seem to be much interest within the current board in reviving the stickers in Cobb while the case goes back before a trial court. Nor has any of the 10 or so candidates for the two school board seats up for election this year indicated that would be a good idea." (Incumbents Kathie Johnstone, who voted against appealing the initial Selman ruling, and Curt Johnston, who voted for the appeal, are running for re-election.) "But unless the courts provide a definitive ruling," King concludes his editorial, "a future board may not feel so constrained."