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Georgia County approves policy to undermine science instruction. (People & Events).

The Cobb County, Ga., School Board has voted unanimously to approve a new policy that critics say is a religiously motivated effort to undermine the teaching of evolution.

The board voted Sept. 26 to approve a policy stating in part, "Discussion of disputed views of academic subjects is a necessary element of providing a balanced education, including the study of the origin of species."

Board members insisted that the policy is designed to spur "academic freedom," but critics charged that its real purpose is to open the door to instruction about creationism in the schools. Opponents noted that the board has approved other measures to weaken instruction about evolution, including making the study of evolution optional and requiring a disclaimer in science textbooks that calls evolution "a theory, not a fact."

Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, criticized the policy, calling it a thinly veiled effort to advance religion in public schools and undermine church-state separation.

"This policy is clearly intended to allow teachers to circumvent the law and promote religion in science classes," Lynn said. "Sunday School lessons masquerading as science have no place in public school classrooms. Cobb County board members have made the wrong call.

"Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident," Lynn continued. "From coast to coast, Religious Right activists have launched a crusade to undermine school neutrality on religion. These fights do nothing but distract attention from the goal of providing students the best education possible."

The new policy was passed at the behest of Religious Right activists who have claimed the change will allow science teachers to teach creationism, a religious account of life's origins based on a fundamentalist reading of the Book of Genesis.

On Aug. 23, the board voted to study the issue for 30 days. During that period, more than 100 university professors from across Georgia contacted board members to oppose the policy. The National Academy of Sciences, a well-respected research body that was chartered by Congress to advise the federal government on scientific matters, also urged the board to reject the proposal.

Americans United's Legal Department also contacted Cobb County officials about the policy and explained that federal courts have consistently ruled that public schools cannot engage in religious indoctrination.

Board members, however, were not persuaded by scientists and legal experts and instead succumbed to political pressure from groups such as local affiliates of the Christian Coalition and the American Family Association (AFA), both of which lobbied aggressively on behalf of the proposal.

In fact, an "action alert" sent by the AFA boldly acknowledged the religious motivation behind the Cobb County proposal. The alert noted that the policy "would allow for scientific classroom discussion on creation as described in the Biblical account of the book of Genesis."

Some science teachers in the district are dismayed. Rex Lybrand, who teaches zoology at Harrison High School, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "I'm very disturbed that they want to dilute science education in Cobb County.... They made teaching science very, very difficult. They've made a mockery of science."

At North Cobb High School, biology teacher Michael Petelle said he would continue to teach evolution.

"I don't think it will have any impact whatsoever on my personal teaching," Petelle said. "However, it will make the community look bad. If I were a biotech firm executive looking to move, I'd cross Cobb County off the list. This doesn't make us look scientifically literate at all."
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Publication:Church & State
Geographic Code:1U5GA
Date:Nov 1, 2002
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