Georgia School District Votes to Allow Different Views Taught on Origin of Life


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Georgia School District Votes to Allow Different Views Taught on Origin of Life

Thursday, September 26, 2002

MARIETTA, Ga. The board of Georgia's second-largest school district voted Thursday night to give teachers permission to introduce students to varying views about the origin of life, including creationism.

The proposal, approved unanimously by the Cobb County school board, says the district believes "discussion of disputed views of academic subjects is a necessary element of providing a balanced education, including the study of the origin of species."

Opponents said it was a backdoor way to bring religion into the classroom.

"Let them believe in God. Let me believe in God. But how can they deny that this is bringing religion into classrooms?" asked Jeffrey Selman.

Supporters, including high school junior Michael Gray, said the board's choice encouraged academic freedom.

"I had to do a term paper about evolution and there were just things that I could disprove or have alternate reasons for," said Gray, who attends Pope High School. "I want my brother and sister to be given the option and not told it's the absolute truth."

The theory of evolution, accepted by nearly all scientists, says evidence shows life developed from earlier forms through slight variations over time and that natural selection determines which species survive. Creationism credits the origin of species to God.

In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled creationism was a religious belief that could not be taught in public schools along with evolution.

After Thursday night's vote, board chairman Curt Johnston read a six-paragraph statement. No other board members commented.

"The purpose of this policy is to foster critical thinking among 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 toward religion," Johnston said.

Critics say the board's decision will not end the emotionally charged debate.

"It would be as if Cobb County were putting up a giant `sue me' sign," said Barry Lynn, executive director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The board's decision in August to consider the proposal attracted national attention to the conservative county north of Atlanta.

Biology professors at every major university in Georgia and the National Science Teachers Association have told the board that passing the resolution would be a mistake.

John Avise, a professor of evolution and genetics at the University of Georgia, said he was concerned the resolution would create confusion and open the door for religion to enter public schools.

"Subjects are always open for discussion," Avise said. "That doesn't mean any theory dreamed up by someone deserves equal time."

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