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Call it Scopes redux — a potential 21st century replay of the famous 1925 Tennessee case that placed Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and the biblical account of creation on trial. The Scopes trial revolved around John Scopes, a high-school teacher who broke the law in Tennessee by teaching Darwin’s theory. In the case that goes to a bench trial in U.S. District Court in Atlanta on Monday before Judge Clarence Cooper, a small sticker placed in 10th-grade biology textbooks has again forced a courtroom collision between science and religion. Selman v. Cobb County School District, No. 1:02CV2325 (N.D. Ga. filed Aug. 21, 2002). The sticker states: “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.” Six Cobb County, Ga., parents are suing to have the sticker removed, arguing that it’s a thinly disguised attempt to promote classroom discussions of religious accounts of creation. The attorney for the school board said the plaintiffs have overreacted to a sticker that does nothing more than offer respect to students and parents whose religious beliefs may conflict with the teaching of evolution. Marietta, Ga., attorney Michael E. Manely, counsel for the parents, sees the case shaping up very much like the Scopes trial, in which Clarence S. Darrow forced William Jennings Bryan to defend biblical accounts of creation. “I had hoped this would be, from the very beginning, a battle of experts,” Manely said. “That was my challenge that I offered to the defendants. … Let the judge decide where the facts lie.” Manely is litigating the case with the American Civil Liberties Union, which also participated in the 1925 Scopes trial. Manely said the Cobb school district is one of dozens across the nation that are bowing to pressure to omit or remove evolution from high-school science curricula or, alternatively, include religious-based teachings in academic coursework. “We are,” he said, “just the tip of the iceberg.” Marietta attorney E. Linwood Gunn IV, who is defending the school board and the school district, said the plaintiffs’ case has been overstated. The litigation has unfairly pegged the school board as “a very backward, regressive group of individuals trying to attack evolution when in fact the opposite is true,” he said. Gunn said that the case will be far more narrow in scope than Manely suggests and should not be used as a vehicle to validate evolution or challenge creationism, the belief that God created the world in six days. “They want to have this as a big show trial,” Gunn said. “It’s not going to be about that. It’s going to be about what the Cobb County school district did in strengthening its evolution curriculum.” Atlanta attorney George M. Weaver tried unsuccessfully to intervene in the case on behalf of Cobb parents who want the schools to discuss creationism in high-school science classes. Weaver said he doubts this trial will draw the kind of attention that the Scopes trial did. “It’s not clear how much expert testimony, or whether any expert testimony, is going to be admitted,” he said. “If there is no expert testimony, it will probably be a very short trial. … If it gets into a battle of experts, it may have more visibility.” Gerald R. Weber, legal director of the ACLU of Georgia, said the case is one more in a series of church-state cases where “there’s pretty clear pre-existing case law out there.” “The progress of church-state cases has been that the [U.S.] Supreme Court sets a line, then government entities do what they can to skirt that line. … Here the Supreme Court has said you can’t teach creationism in the public schools. You can’t have an equal-time provision for evolution and creationism. These disclaimers are a new effort to skirt the line.” WHY COBB INSERTED STICKERS The case centers on the sticker that the Cobb school board ordered pasted inside the front cover of its 10th-grade biology textbook in 2002. The textbook, “Prentice-Hall’s Biology,” by Kenneth Miller and Joseph Levine, includes “a comprehensive view of evolution,” Gunn said. Gunn explained that the stickers were inserted as part of the board’s determination to have evolutionary science taught in Cobb high schools. It was, for Cobb, a radical revision of its former policy, which Gunn acknowledged was the result of previous school boards’ decisions “to cater to people’s religious faith, maybe even in a way that was unconstitutional.” Before the county adopted the Miller/Levine textbook, Cobb banned any mention of evolution in its textbooks and prohibited teaching evolution, Gunn said. “What we did is correct that,” Gunn said. “The only thing the school board did is acknowledge there is a potential conflict [between the science of evolution and creationism] and there is a potential infringement on people’s beliefs if you present it in a dogmatic way. We’re going to do it in a respectful way.” Gunn also has argued in court pleadings that whether evolution is a fact or a theory is not relevant to the question of whether the sticker had a religious purpose. “I don’t know what in that sticker suggests the existence of a higher being,” he said in an interview last week. The plaintiffs and the ACLU “don’t like the fact that we may accommodate religious beliefs.” According to court records, the board said it adopted the sticker “to foster critical thinking among students, to allow academic freedom consistent with legal requirements, to promote tolerance and acceptance of diversity of opinion and to ensure a posture of neutrality toward religion.” The board said it didn’t intend “to restrict the teaching of evolution, to promote or require the teaching of creationism, or to discriminate against or on behalf of a particular set of religious beliefs, religion in general, or non-religion.” But Manely argues that the sticker, although it makes no mention of God or religion, is a disclaimer for the only accepted scientific explanation of the origin of life. “Evolution is the underpinning of all life sciences. It’s what the foundation of science is based upon,” Manely said. Stating that evolution is only a theory is a covert way of prompting students to discuss the existence of God, he argued, and to proselytize religious theories of the origins of humankind. “There is no critique of evolution that is not religious based,” he said, except for a theory that aliens from outer space were the source of Earth’s population. ‘A SCIENTIFIC DISPUTE EXISTS’ In depositions appearing in court briefs, several school board members acknowledged that the intent of the sticker was to precipitate a critical discussion of evolution. Cobb school board member Lindsey Tippens testified in his deposition that he believed the sticker was sufficient to prompt discussion of evolution “as a disputed view … because I don’t think we have the wherewithal to rewrite textbooks.” Included among those alternative theories of evolution, he said, would be discussion of creationism, as well as intelligent design — the idea that God guided the scientific evolution of the species. “This sticker was not intended to interject religion into science instruction but simply to make students aware that a scientific dispute exists,” Tippens added. Manely has argued in court briefs that any dispute about evolution exists within religion — not science. “The only people who dispute it do so for religious reasons,” he said. “Evolution is a fact. No credible scientist in any biological research field disputes that evolution is a fact.” CASE REFLECTS ‘SCOPES’ It is the potential for giving theories with religious underpinnings the same academic weight as evolution that reflects the great debate of the Scopes trial. Of that case, three-time presidential candidate Bryan wrote in a closing argument he never delivered, “The case has assumed the proportions of a battle-royal between unbelief that attempts to speak through so-called science and the defenders of the Christian faith, speaking through the legislators of Tennessee. It is a choice between God and Baal.” In the trial’s most famous episode, Bryan took the witness stand while Darrow peppered him with questions about passages in the Bible, attempting to show that it couldn’t all be considered literal. The exchanges between two of the finest trial lawyers of their day has become the stuff of plays, movies and many books. In one sequence, Darrow asked Bryan, “Did you ever discover where Cain got his wife?” Bryan responded, “No, sir; I leave the agnostics to hunt for her.” Darrow asked Bryan if he believed that Joshua literally commanded the sun to stand still in order to lengthen the day. Bryan conceded that the earth moves around the sun, but allowed that he believed Joshua did prevail upon God to lengthen the day. “Now, Mr. Bryan, have you ever pondered what would have happened to the earth if it had stood still?” Darrow asked. “No; the God I believe in could have taken care of that, Mr. Darrow,” Bryan shot back. At Darrow’s request, the jury found Scopes guilty and the judge fined him $100. Darrow made the request saying he intended to appeal the case immediately. The Supreme Court of Tennessee eventually overturned the verdict. Scopes v. State, 154 Tenn. 105, 289 S.W. 363. But 43 years would pass before the U.S. Supreme Court banned the teaching of creationism in public schools. The trial here is unlikely to provide the drama of the Scopes case, but in several pre-trial orders Judge Cooper has recognized the same underlying religious debate. The sticker “is not clearly neutral towards evolution,” he wrote. “A cursory reading of the sticker would likely posit doubt in the mind of the reader regarding the merits of evolutionary theory when those doubts might not otherwise exist.” The Cobb school board, he continued, “decided to place the sticker in the textbook as a way to accommodate religious belief” after a group of parents “expressed concern that the instruction of evolution would be in a manner that would negate any possibility of religious belief.” But to the extent that the school board was seeking to avoid offending students and parents, the sticker also served a secular purpose, he wrote. He agreed with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a 1999 ruling originating in Louisiana that “the local school board need not turn a blind eye to the concerns of students and parents troubled by the teaching of evolution in public classrooms.” Cooper indicated that there is little to guide him. “The court acknowledges that there is not definitive controlling authority regarding many of the issues involved in this case and that there is a substantial ground for difference of opinion as to the issue of law,” Cooper wrote. The case, he said, will come down to this: whether the sticker “has the primary effect of advancing or endorsing religion.”

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