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Censorship in Science Class Part 3: Selman v Cobb County

In Parts 1 and 2 of this series we covered the first four court cases shaping the educational state of affairs we operate within today. In this final installment, we’ll discuss the implications of Selman v Cobb County.

In March 2002,  Cobb County school district passed a policy requiring all biology textbooks bear a sticker saying:

“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.”

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The school board also adopted policy changes emphasizing its aim to “foster critical thinking among the 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 to religion.” The policy further explained that it was not its intention to restrict the teaching of evolution, nor to promote creationism.

This rubbed New York transplant and Cobb County resident, Jeffrey Selman, the wrong way. He read about the stickers in the Atlanta paper, Creative Loafing, and says that he contacted the school board about his concerns, but felt ignored. Selman then contacted the ACLU, filing a lawsuit challenging the disclaimer.

The district court held that the disclosure was adopted for the secular purpose of accommodating religious objections, but had the unconstitutional effect of endorsing religion. The school district appealed.

In June 2005, Americans United and the Anti-Defamation League got involved arguing that the district court had correctly found that the disclaimer had an unconstitutional effect, but that it had erred when it held that placing religiously motivated objectors is a secular purpose.

In 2006, the Appeals Court vacated the district court’s ruling and sought to review the district court’s trial record which it subsequently found to be insufficient. When Americans United requested a new trial in which they would represent Selman as lead council, the court agreed. However, the case never went to trial. Both parties settled in December of 2006 resulting in a consent order prohibiting the school district from:

  1. Reattaching to science textbooks the evolution disclaimer stickers or any other statements regarding evolution, Charles Darwin, creation science, intelligent design, or any other religious view concerning the origin of life or the origin of human beings.
  2. Making any disclaimers regarding evolution orally, in writing, or by any other means.
  3. Exercising or redacting materials on evolution in students’ science textbooks.
  4. Violating state educational standards regarding the teaching of evolution.

Further: Should the school district violate any of these provisions, the case will be reopened and the school district may be liable for all attorney’s fees accrued since the start of the case.

For you scorekeepers, the courts have now added to their rulings that schools may not add written disclaimers on textbooks or encourage students to “critically consider” what their textbooks say regarding evolution.

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This ruling proves to be particularly troubling as Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute notes:

“Under Judge Cooper’s ruling, a law is unconstitutional if some citizens ‘perceive the [government] to be aligning itself with proponents of religious theories of origin’—even if the government did not adopt those religious policies. It’s all about perceptions and feelings. According to this court, if the government feels that ‘Christian fundamentalists and creationists’ have a good idea, and they adopt it, then that policy is unconstitutional even if it had a valid secular purpose, simply because it was supported by ‘Christian fundamentalists and creationists’ in the community. An otherwise constitutional policy is made unconstitutional simply because of the religious beliefs of the people in the community who support it…Such a legal rule diminishes the political rights of religious citizens by inhibiting their ability to advocate for policy positions in American politics.”

Judge Cooper stated:

There is no evidence in this case that the School Board included the statement in the Sticker that ‘evolution is a theory, not a fact’ to promote or advance religion…Still, the informed, reasonable [observer] would perceive the School Board to be aligning itself with proponents of religious theories of origin.”

Luskin further notes Judge Cooper’s failure to treat religion in a neutral fashion. “Indeed, Jeffrey Selman, the plaintiff himself, participated in a ‘Rally for Reason’ sponsored by the Atheist Law Center. Much activist opposition to Cobb County’s disclaimer by the atheist community was organized through a group called ‘Internet Infidels.’” (Internet Infidels is “a non-profit dedicated to defending and promoting a naturalistic worldview on the Internet” where “naturalism entails the nonexistence of all supernatural beings, including the theistic God.”)

It is true that creation science and intelligent design hold implications for fields outside of science such as theology, ethics, and philosophy. But so does evolution. John G. West (Discovery Institute) writes, “Leading Darwinists routinely draw out theological and cultural implications from the theory of evolution.” Here are a couple of West’s examples:

  1. Richard Dawkins claims that Darwin “made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.
  2. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, acknowledges that the purpose of the group’s “clergy outreach program” is to “encourage members of the practicing clergy to address the issue of evolution in Sunday schools and adult Bible classes” and to get church members to talk about “the theological implications of evolution.”

It is abundantly clear that those who are insistent upon the theory of evolution being taught in public schools exclusively, barring any suggestion by the school system of critical thought on the part of the student regarding evolution theory’s shortcomings, and also barring the mention of the theories put forth by creation science or intelligent design, intend to promote the anti-religious belief that life did not originate with a Creator.

These court decisions are unconstitutional by definition of their own Lemon Test. They violate the 1st prong by failing to recognize the atheistic “anti-religious” purpose of creating pro-evolution legislation as a “non-secular purpose” (illustrated in numerous trials by the failure of the courts to remain neutral between the religious and non-religious). They violate the 2nd prong by advancing evolutionary theory (centering around the absence of a Creator) and censoring alternative theories (which recognize a Creator). The 3rd prong is grievously violated as the court has become almost inextricably entangled in a battle between atheism and religion. As Justices Scalia, Rehnquist, and Thomas recognized- our children are the ones who suffer. The Supreme Court has failed to afford them “freedom from indoctrination” along with their right “to decide for themselves how life began, based on fair and balanced presentation of scientific evidence.” Censorship reigns victorious.

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Written by Tiffany Denham

I'm a stay-at-home mom of three with a B.S. in Finance, Minor in Economics, and a passion for science, research, Christian apologetics, and writing. Upon realizing that I had been a victim of the widely held belief that mainstream science is “unbiased” and the erroneous beliefs that follow, I embarked on a crusade to share the overwhelming evidence revealing science's lesser known yet undeniable validation of the biblical creation account. I'm also dedicated to cultivating a deep knowledge and understanding of the Bible in order to effectively defend God's Word and bring honor and glory to Him. I also blog on a number of topics with the goal of combating the misinformation our society is inundated with daily at TruthSnitch.com.

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  1. This has been an interesting series Tiffany, thanks. A quick comment: you write “The 3rd prong is grievously violated as the court has become almost inextricably entangled in a battle between atheism and religion.”
    As I have pointed out elsewhere (as does Answers In Genesis and many other apologetic ministries) – Atheism is also a religion; and thus the court has really become nothing more than the arbiter between two religions, and is promoting one (atheism and evolution) over another. The first amendment makes that unconstitutional for congress to do, but as you point out, that’s what the courts are doing today.

    • Thanks Duane! I completely agree that atheism is more appropriately categorized as a religion. In my view, it takes far more faith to adopt the belief that there definitely is no God than to accept that the vast majority of evidence points to His existence.

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