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Creationist Cults

August 23, 2002
Georgia School Board Requires Balance of Evolution and Bible

After an angry debate among parents, Georgia's second-largest school district adopted a policy last night that requires teachers to give a "balanced education" about the origin of life, giving equal weight to evolution and biblical interpretations.

The district, Cobb County, had already come under attack this summer for attaching disclaimers to all science textbooks, saying that evolution "is a theory, not a fact," and should be "approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered." On Wednesday, a parent and the Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit demanding that the disclaimers be removed. Yesterday, they vowed to amend the suit to ask the court to reverse the new policy.

Board members said they were not restricting the teaching of evolution or encouraging the teaching of creationism. The policy, they said, was simply a reflection of the district's philosophy of teaching a wide and objective range of ideas, particularly in discussing "disputed views of academic subjects, including the origin of species."

After the vote, Gordon O'Neill, a board member, led his colleagues in a prayer: "Heavenly father, we ask that you provide to all of us a clear understanding of our fellow man and an acceptance of a diversity of thinking. Amen."

Many parents at the board's packed meeting said the policy was a backdoor route to teaching religion in schools. They implored the board members not to adopt the policy, saying it would dilute the quality of science education and make graduates of the district, which is north of Atlanta, the laughingstock of college admission offices.

"The loud voices of the extremist few have drowned out the voice of the moderate majority," said Adele Marticke, who has two school-age children.

Paula Jackson, an elementary school parent, said, "It's deception and indoctrination."

But others urged the board to open the classroom to religious points of view.

"To deny there is a God is to stand on a building and deny there is a building," said Russell Brock, who described himself as an insurance salesman and a minister.

Rick Burgess, another parent, said: "Evolution is strictly a theory, and we don't think it should be taught as fact. It's fine if you don't teach creationism, but you ought to be able to open up discussion of it."

The fight over how to teach the origin of life has erupted in several angry spurts since John Scopes's 1925 trial for teaching evolution.

The Kansas state school board reinstated teaching evolution last year, after striking it from the science curriculum two years earlier. Still, conservatives on the board have promised to revive the issue, and a candidate for the board who opposes the teaching of evolution won a recent primary by a wide margin.

In Ohio, the state board of education is considering a science curriculum that would teach "intelligent design," which accepts some evolutionary notions about how species develop, but argues that God or a godlike creator must have been in charge of the grand plan.

Discussing the Cobb County policy informally over the last few weeks, board members said they were responding to the community's demand to teach a broader range of views in science classes.

About 2,000 parents had signed petitions objecting to the board's purchase of new science textbooks in the spring because the books taught evolution. The parents asked the schools to give equal time to creationism, and several school board members then asked the district's lawyers to write a policy that would allow discussion of theories beyond evolution but not violate the Constitution. The board's lawyers said the policy was not unconstitutional because it did not promote any religious view as right or wrong.

But some parents said the disclaimer and talk of balance and objectivity were simply code words for promoting creationism.

Jeffrey Selman, who is suing the school district, said science promoted critical thinking "Why do we need a disclaimer?" he said. "It's the backdoor into pushing religion in schools."

The policy adopted last night says that evolution "remains an area of intense interest, research and discussion among scholars," and so should be handled with objectivity.

Jay Dillon, a district spokesman, said teachers should teach "all sides of an issue" instead of just evolution.

"The board was concerned that this was the only theory being presented," Mr. Dillon said.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

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