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Court Revives Georgia Sticker Case

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Science  02 Jun 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5778, pp. 1292b
DOI: 10.1126/science.312.5778.1292b

The fight over antievolution stickers in U.S. public school biology textbooks took a new twist last week when a federal appeals court told a lower court to try again.

In its 25 May ruling, a three-judge panel in Atlanta, Georgia, vacated a January 2005 District Court ruling ordering the Cobb County school board to remove a sticker from 35,000 textbooks warning students that evolution is “a theory, not a fact.” The District Court called the policy unconstitutional because it mingled government with religion (Science, 21 January 2005, p. 334). But Judge Ed Carnes of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that the record lacked proof that the board acted with religious intent and actually reflected “rampant confusion” over the evidence. Carnes said the court must either “flesh out” the record or, preferably, conduct “a completely new trial.”

Both sides seem pleased with the decision. It's “a victory as it throws out the problematic ruling [made by] the trial court,” says Casey Luskin, a lawyer at The Discovery Institute, creationism's main think tank in Seattle, Washington. Evolution defender Sarah Pallas, a biologist at Georgia State University in Atlanta, says, “We think this is a good thing” because the appellate judges are not known to be sympathetic to evolution and “could have reversed instead of remanding.” Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California, says the case will be bolstered by a recent Dover, Pennsylvania, decision (Science, 6 January, p. 34) that shot down intelligent design and the strategy of labeling evolution “theory, not fact.”

Carnes wrote that the do-over is necessary because “key” documents were missing that would show the board's sticker policy was driven by religious rather than educational concerns. The main one is a 2300-signature petition calling for a textbook disclaimer that a parent, Marjorie Rogers, submitted to the board prior to its March 2002 decision.

Board vice president Curtis Johnson says, “We are awaiting instructions from [District Court] Judge Cooper” before deciding whether to defend the stickers, which were removed last year.

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