ATLANTA - Since 2002, Dr. Kenneth Miller has been upset that biology textbooks he has written are slapped with a warning sticker by the time they appear in suburban Atlanta schools. Evolution, the stickers say, is "a theory, not a fact."
"What it tells students is that we're certain of everything else in this book except evolution," said Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University, who with Joseph S. Levine has authored three texts for high schoolers.
On Thursday, Miller — along with fellow teachers and scientists — cheered a federal judge's ruling that ordered the Cobb County school board to immediately remove the stickers and never again hand them out in any form.
"Obviously, this is quite a victory for good science education," said Benjamin Z. Freed, an anthropology professor at Atlanta's Emory University and chairman of Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education.
But some parents and religious conservatives decried the ruling as another in a string of what opponents call activist judges overruling the wishes of elected officials — often on matters of religion.
"It's another example of how the bench is dictating to people what symbols they can display, if they can pray or not pray or if they can teach a particular subject," said Sadie Fields, head of the Georgia chapter of the Christian Coalition.
The Georgia case is one of several battles waged in recent years throughout the nation over what role evolution should play in science books.
The school district just north of Atlanta approved the stickers after more than 2,000 parents complained the textbooks presented evolution as fact, without mentioning rival ideas about the beginnings of life.
During four days of testimony in federal court last November, the school system defended the warning stickers as a show of tolerance, not religious activism as some parents claimed. Its attorneys argued the school board had made a good-faith effort to address questions that inevitably arise during the teaching of evolution.
The stickers read, "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."
Scientists, several of whom testified in the case, say the sticker confuses the scientific term "theory" with the word's common usage and inappropriately combines science with personal religious belief.
"Many of us hold deeply personal religious ideals as well," Freed said. "But for a science teacher in a public school to introduce religion into a science class would fall way outside the ideals of any organization of scientists or science educators."
A group of parents and the American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites) challenged the stickers in court, arguing they violate the Constitution's separation of church and state.
Jeffrey Selman, whose son was a second-grader in Cobb County schools at the time, called Thursday's ruling a "shot across the bow" of religious fundamentalists he says are attempting to introduce their beliefs in the classroom.
"I got what I wanted; I got the stickers removed," said Selman.
The school board issued a statement saying members are disappointed by the ruling and are meeting with lawyers to decide whether to appeal. The Cobb school system has 30 days to appeal.
© 2005 The Associated Press