A federal appeals court in Atlanta heard arguments on Thursday in a case involving the legality of stickers on textbooks that state that evolution is a theory, not a fact. The case had been appealed after a lower court found that they endorsed religion.
The three-judge panel questioned the lower court ruling and stated that the judge had gotten some of the facts of the case wrong, according to the Associated Press.
"The court gives two bases for its findings and they're absolutely wrong," Judge Ed Carnes told Atlanta American Civil Liberties Union attorney Jeffrey Bramlett, who was arguing on behalf of five parents who sued the school board to get the stickers removed.
In one instance, Judge Ed Carnes of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals told Bramlett that there was likely nothing wrong with the statement on the sticker in the question.
I dont think you all can contest any of the sentences, he said, according to AP.
The issue at stake was whether or not the school board had a religious purpose for using the business card-sized stickers on the inside covers of the science textbooks.
The stickers state that evolution "is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. The material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."
"It is a theory, not a fact; the book supports that," Carnes said.
At one point Carnes noted that U.S. District Court Judge Clarence Cooper said in his January 2005 decision opposing the stickers that he did not take into consideration 2,300 people who signed a petition in favor of the evolution disclaimers.
However Carnes noted that in Coopers ruling, the lower court judge said that when the school board voted to use the stickers, it adopted a distinction that religiously motivated individuals have specifically asked school boards to make in the most recent anti-evolutionary movement.
Linwood Gunn, the attorney representing the Cobb County school board said that there is nothing religious about the sticker, except for the perception people had of it.
"There's nothing religious in the case except constituents' beliefs or presumed beliefs," Gunn said, according to AP.
Gunn said that the stickers were placed there in order to strengthen the teaching of evolution, a change from days when Cobb County had limited the teaching of evolution.
He said that in fact, the school board had decided to use a new text-book in 2002 that contained chapters about evolution, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
But Bramlett said that it would be misleading to say evolution is not a fact, citing Kenneth Miller, the author of the book, according to AP.
Now that the judges have heard arguments, they will issue their decision at a later time.
Origins of the Evolution Sticker Case
In 2002, several parents were upset by the school boards decision to place evolution stickers criticizing it.
They filed a lawsuit in a U.S. District Court that the stickers violated the First Amendment of the constitution, which prohibits the establishment of religion.
U.S. District Court Judge Clarence Cooper ruled in favor of the parents.
By denigrating evolution, the school board appears to be endorsing the well-known prevailing alternative theory, creationism or variations thereof, even though the sticker does not specifically reference any alternative theories, Judge Cooper said in his decision.
He added that sticker sends "a message that the school board agrees with the beliefs of Christian fundamentalists and creationists."
"The school board has effectively improperly entangled itself with religion by appearing to take a position," Cooper wrote. "Therefore, the sticker must be removed from all of the textbooks into which it has been placed."
However, the school board appealed the case to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.