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Marjorie Rogers describes herself as a “six-day literal creationist” who believes the Bible’s account of a world created by God in six days is the absolute authority on the origin of life. Testifying Monday in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, Rogers described Cobb County, Ga., biology textbooks that explain Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution as “extremely dishonest.” “They acted like there wasn’t even a controversy,” she said. Rogers’ testimony was followed by that of Roger W. McCoy, chairman of the science department at North Cobb High School. He called the biology textbooks criticized by Rogers “the best we’d seen for high-school students.” That sharp, at times emotional, divergence of opinion is at the heart of a federal case in which both Rogers and McCoy testified on Monday, Selman v. Cobb County School District, No. l:02CV2325 (N.D. Ga. filed Aug. 21, 2002). At issue is a sticker that the Cobb County Board of Education ordered placed in the front of its high-school biology textbooks in 2002 after Rogers collected more than 2,300 signatures on a petition that asked the schools either to bar the teaching of evolution or give equal time to religious-inspired explanations for the origin of life. The sticker tells students that evolution is “a theory, not a fact” that should be “studied carefully and critically considered.” From the school board’s point of view, the sticker was an acceptable way to balance the teaching of science with the religious sensibilities of parents such as Rogers. But six parents of Cobb students, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, say the sticker is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. The underlying question is how evolution should be taught in the public schools, where some children come from families that hold to the Genesis account of creation. That debate has surfaced periodically in the courts since Charles Darwin first described the evolution of life as a natural and continuing transformation of organisms over time in “On the Origin of the Species” in 1859. The ACLU has been at the forefront of that battle since at least 1925 when the organization defended Tennessee teacher John Scopes against criminal charges that he had violated Tennessee law by teaching evolution in the public schools. At the time, Tennessee law mandated that only creationism, or the origin of life as narrated in Genesis, could be taught. EVOLUTION UNDER ATTACK? In opening statements Monday, ACLU lawyer Margaret F. Garrett told U.S. District Court Judge Clarence Cooper, who is presiding over the bench trial that is expected to last four days, that the stickers invite students to consider a religious explanation of the origin of life. She noted that while the school board said it only wanted students to consider “alternative” theories of evolution, almost all alternate theories are based on religious belief. Garrett argued that the disclaimer’s wording is actually “an endorsement of religion. … It makes [evolution] seem unsound and unsupported.” In his opening statement, school board attorney E. Linwood Gunn IV countered with a passage from “On the Origin of Species,” in which Darwin referenced the existence of God: “There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” Even so, “some people have felt that science and religion would be in hopeless conflict,” Gunn said. “The real question of this case is whether religion and scientific theory can peacefully co-exist. Science and religion are not mutually exclusive.” Gunn also urged Cooper to compare the 33-word disclaimer “that may create some doubt about evolution” to more than 100 pages in the textbook devoted to the science of evolution. “The sticker doesn’t exist independently of 101 pages on evolution.” The school board attorney also noted that the introduction of evolution as part of the high-school curriculum actually is an advancement of the county’s previous practice of banning the discussion of evolution in elementary and middle schools and limiting its study in high schools to elective classes. Previously, the county even excised pages from textbooks that referenced evolution. In introducing evolution into its curriculum, Gunn said, board members “wanted to accommodate religion, and they wanted to promote critical thinking.” And, Gunn insisted, evolution, “because of its breadth, it’s not a fact. It’s a theory; a huge, huge theory” that is referred to as such in the biology text. That assertion prompted Cooper to ask, “Why is it necessary for the sticker in the front of the book to acknowledge what’s already in the book?” DEFENSE: NO VIOLATION EXISTS Cooper posed a second question to Gunn a short time later. “Is it the position of the defense that science and religion can co-exist in an educational context without violating the separation of church and state?” “Yes,” Gunn acknowledged. “That’s clearly our position.” “The stickers, as you view it, encouraged discussion of creation” by God or another supreme being? Cooper asked. “I think it acknowledges a conflict,” Gunn replied. How were teachers told to address questions or conflicts stemming from the disclaimer? Cooper asked. “The idea is that there is a scientific discussion and there’s a religious discussion, and we’re going to have a scientific discussion,” Gunn said. “The issue of faith doesn’t have a place in a scientific discussion. … The defendants’ obligation is neutrality.” But he added, “We have an obligation to those who felt very strongly about this as well as an obligation to Mr. Selman.”

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