School board settles lawsuit that brought national limelight over disclaimers.
The Cobb County evolution saga is finally over, more than four years after school officials ordered stickers warning that evolution is "a theory, not a fact" pasted into thousands of science textbooks.
The end came Tuesday, when the Cobb County school board announced it had settled a lawsuit filed by parents who said the disclaimer violated the constitutional prohibition against government-established religion.
The case had attracted national attention, much of it unflattering, and stoked debate over the teaching of science and religion in the classroom -- even on the origin of life.
Cobb school board chairwoman Teresa Plenge explained that the board saw "the need to put this divisive issue behind us." However, she admitted no mistake on the board's part, saying she believed the stickers were constitutional.
Parents who filed suit against the stickers cheered their victory.
"Evolution cannot be redefined by people who don't like it," said Jeffrey Selman, one of five Cobb parents who sued to have the disclaimer removed. "I sued in the name of science and protecting science education, but the umbrella here is the First Amendment. I think our side has stood up very strongly for the United States Constitution."
Marjorie Rogers, the Cobb parent who led the drive that resulted in the stickers' placement, said she was disappointed.
"The stickers were just a compromise the school board made to satisfy those of us who were offended by the material in the textbooks," said Rogers, a creationist. She added that "the textbooks are inaccurate and biased and unconstitutional."
In the settlement, the school system agreed not to take out or edit materials on evolution in textbooks and to pay $166,659 toward attorney fees in the case.
In 2002, Cobb officials, responding to Rogers and other parents' concerns, decided to place the stickers on the front inside covers of about 35,000 textbooks.
The stickers read: "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."
Some parents argued that the sticker promoted religion in classrooms and violated the separation of church and state.
Cobb's was one of many battles in recent years over the teaching of evolution in schools.
In two of the biggest cases, a federal judge last year barred the Dover, Pa., school district from teaching "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution, and the state school board in Kansas adopted standards critical of evolution.
Though defended by some religious groups, Cobb's stickers were derided in publications from New York magazine to Scientific American. The move was also the subject of jokes on blogs and e-mails, including one that linked to a Web site offering alternative stickers. One read: "This textbook contains material on gravity. Gravity is a theory, not a fact, regarding a force that cannot be seen ..."
In 2005, U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper ordered the Cobb school district to remove the labels. School officials had them scraped off, but asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse Cooper's decision.
Last spring, the appellate panel sent the case back to Cooper requesting more information, saying the court record of the case was too incomplete for it to decide whether Cooper was correct in his decision.
That's where the case stood until the settlement announced Tuesday.
Larry Taylor, one of the parents who originally lobbied the school board for the stickers, expressed frustration at the decision to settle. He blamed the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the parents who sued the school district.
"They were trying to do the right thing," said Taylor, a parent of three Cobb students. "It's terrorist organizations like the ACLU that are hijacking our country's educational system by imposing their own secular agenda on the rest of us."
Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State in Washington, D.C., hailed the case's conclusion.
"Students should be taught sound science, and the curriculum should not be altered at the behest of aggressive religious groups," Lynn said. "Cobb County school officials have taken the right step to ensure that their students receive a quality education."
Incoming school board member John Crooks, a Baptist minister who opposed the stickers, said he was pleased the board reached a settlement.
"Moving on to more important educational matters is essential," he said.
I think next item on the menu should be the placement of these stickers on these here books - you know, because it's a theory and all and not in any way factual. There are a lot of them here also, including a downloadable .PDF file you can print onto sticker paper for the next time you're in a church, bookstore, or hotel.