Alablawg

Commentary on Alabama Law and Society

My Photo
Name:
Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Wait (And Waste) Continues

For a ruling in the Cobb County sticker case. The Eleventh Circuit yesterday punted it back to the district court. (H/T Decision of the Day). This is the case from Georgia where the School Board put this disclaimer in the biology textbooks:

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.

The question is whether or not that violated the establishment clause. There being no law in that area, just random decisions, each case depends on its particular facts. Is this action more like that unconstitutional one, or yonder constitutional one? It all comes down to who acted when and for what reason they acted. In this case the Eleventh Circuit said there is not enough information in the record to decide, so they have sent it back to the district court. They include 19 "nonexclusive . . . factual issues that it probably will want to address."

Holy waste of resources batman! Granted, the school board probably acted from impure motives. This is their history, after all:

In 1995 the Cobb County School District had an official policy concerning the instruction of students on "Theories of Origin." The policy acknowledged that "some scientific accounts of the origin of human species as taught in public schools are inconsistent with the family teachings of a significant number of Cobb County citizens." It provided that "the instructional program and curriculum of the school system shall be planned and organized with respect for these family teachings."

An accompanying regulation explained how the policy was to be implemented. The 1995 regulation stated that out of "respect for the family teachings of a significant number of Cobb County citizens," the subject of the origin of human species would not be taught in the elementary and middle schools, and instruction in it would not be mandatory in the district's high schools. The regulation did state that elective courses on alternative theories of the origin of human species, including creation theory, would be offered to high school students and noted in curriculum catalogs and listings. In compliance with the 1995 policy and regulation, the school district provided students with science textbooks only after any section containing material on evolution had been torn out of the books.

Yes, heaven forbid the truth should affect anyone's convictions. And "Family teachings?" Come on, at least be honest: "Some families don't like evolution because they think it conflicts with the Bible. We answer to these people at the polls, so, education be darned, we are doing what they want."

This is no longer the policy, but it is the context for the stickers. I have no doubt the stickers arose from religious motivations and acted to mollify religious concerns.

That said, this is a stupid case. Nothing in these stickers is harmful, or even untrue. I certainly do not think they are going to cause anyone to reject evolution, or feel excluded because of differing religious beliefs. Really, they sound to me like a good way to encourage the anti-evolution crowd to open their minds. If the goal is good science, these stickers probably achieve the goal, especially in light of the district's previous treatment of evolution. So, rather than requiring everyone to spend more time and money on the case, I wish the Eleventh Circuit had just ruled one way or the other.