The Atlanta Journal-Constitution March 27, 2003

Evolution critics argue free speech

by Phillip Taylor

Two parents told a federal court that Cobb County Schools' defense of its evolution policy against a lawsuit fails to address the rights of their children to receive instruction critical of theories about human origins.

Attorneys for Larry Taylor and Allen Hardage, both fathers of children in Cobb County schools, filed a motion last week urging the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Georgia to allow them to help the schools fight the lawsuit.

The school district found itself at the center of a national debate last summer after its school board voted unanimously for a policy allowing science teachers to include "disputed views" in teachings about human origins. The board said its purpose was to encourage critical thinking about evolution while at the same time ensuring "neutrality toward religion."

School officials placed stickers in high school and middle school textbooks advising students that evolution was merely a theory and should be debated.

Jeffery Selman, another Cobb County parent, filed a lawsuit last August challenging the disclaimers. The lawsuit contends the textbook advisories serve as "fundamentalist Christian expression" and thus violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government endorsement of religion.

Both Taylor and Hardage in their motion exert First Amendment claims as well.

The motion states that if the court rules in Selman's favor, information required for a thorough education about the origin of living things would be censored.

"If the plaintiff is successful, defendants will be forced to censor speech regarding evolutionary theory that will allow students to approach this topic with an open mind, and study it carefully and critically," the motion reads. "This will directly affect the parental rights and free speech rights of the intervenors."

Glenn Brock, attorney for the Cobb school district, did not return a call seeking comment.

Michael Manely, Selman's attorney, said he would not comment on the motion except to say the two fathers possibly could have standing in the case. He said additional defendants probably would not change the arguments against Cobb's evolution policy or the textbook advisories.

File Date: 04.01.03