Sunday, January 23, 2005

My Neck of the Woods

CORRECTION: 1/24/05. The full text of my letter to the editor is not currently available online. It turns out that the link I provided initially was not permanent. As soon as the full text of my letter is available, I will repair he link.


My home-town newspaper, The Harrisonburg Daily News-Record, has weighed in on the Cobb County decision. Here's an excerpt:


In the movie “Annie Hall,” after a fellow actor has described an odd fantasy, Woody Allen tells him, “Excuse me, but I have to get back to planet Earth.”

After Federal District Judge Clarence Cooper’s ruling that a sticker on a Georgia biology textbook stating that “evolution is a theory, not a fact,” that should be “approached with an open mind, studied carefully and, critically considered,” is unconstitutional, one wonders what planet the judge is on.

So evolution — and one assumes other items in the textbook — should not be approached with an open mind or critically considered?

Judge Cooper — appointed by President Bill Clinton — said schoolchildren “are likely to view the message on the sticker as a union of church and state.” They would? Wouldn’t it be more likely that students reading the message would think it stated that they should study science carefully and critically consider items?

Besides, is what schoolchildren “likely to believe” the new constitutional standard for the courts? If so, many of the nation’s laws will have to change.


They were kind enough to publish the letter to the editor I wrote in reply. Here's an excerpt:


Contrary to the implication of your editorial (“Critical Study,” Jan. 15) Judge Clarence Cooper did not create a new Constitutional standard in his ruling in the Cobb County evolution trial.

As he documented meticulously in his 44-page opinion (which deserved far better treatment than the one, out-of-context, half-sentence you chose to use), he was simply applying the standards laid down in the relevant court precedents.

If you disagree with his ruling, your argument is with those precedents, not with his reasoning.

Anyone familiar with the background of this case would have to conclude that the primary purpose and effect of the textbook sticker was the promotion of religion. If the purpose had been the promotion of critical thinking, there would have been no reason for singling out evolution for special treatment.

As noted by Judge Cooper, the School Board rejected an alternative sticker that would have made it clear that all scientific theories, not just evolution, should be approached critically and with an open mind. The motivation for treating evolution as different is entirely religious, not scientific.

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