"Traipsing into breathtaking inanity" II: analysis of Selman v. Cobb County
Background material for this post is given in "What happened to the Cobb County textbook sticker case?" and "Aptly named 'Lemon test' sucks" on this blog.
The Selman opinion made the following statement in the "purpose" prong analysis --
Evidence in the record suggests that the idea of placing a sticker in the textbooks originated with parents who opposed the presentation of only evolution in science classrooms and sought to have other theories, including creation theories, included in the curriculum. Namely, Marjorie Rogers wrote a letter to the School Board over two weeks before the adoption of the Sticker recommending, among other things, that the School Board place a disclaimer in each book. Moreover, Ms. Rogers and over 2,300 other Cobb County citizens submitted a petition to the School Board also asking the School Board to place a statement at the beginning of the text that warned that the material on evolution was not factual. There is no dispute that a large number of Cobb County citizens opposed the teaching of evolution in a rigid fashion, and it is clear to the Court that many of these citizens were motivated by their religious beliefs. However, the Court does not rely on communications from these individuals, who apparently sought to advance religion, to determine whether the School Board itself sought to endorse or advance religion when it voted to place the Sticker in science textbooks. See Adler, 206 F.3d at 1086 (stating that courts should not discern legislative purpose from letters written by community members to school officials). (emphasis added)
Note that the court said, "the Court does not rely on communications from these individuals, who apparently sought to advance religion, to determine whether the School Board itself sought to endorse or advance religion." I think that this statement is good (though as shown below, this statement was unfortunately contradicted in the effect prong analysis), but it is was wrong to assume that the petition's signers were motivated by religion -- some people may have signed the petition for non-religious reasons (a lot depends on how the petition was worded). Anyway, the judge ruled that the textbook stickers passed the "purpose" prong of the Lemon test.
The opinion made the following statement in the "effect" prong analysis --
....... the basis for this Court's conclusion that the Sticker violates the effects prong is not that the School Board should not have called evolution a theory or that the School Board should have called evolution a fact. Rather, the distinction of evolution as a theory rather than a fact is the distinction that religiously-motivated individuals have specifically asked school boards to make in the most recent anti-evolution movement, and that was exactly what parents in Cobb County did in this case. By adopting this specific language, even if at the direction of counsel, the Cobb County School Board appears to have sided with these religiously-motivated individuals.
So there it is -- the sole reason why it was unconstitutional for the school board to adopt the language of the textbook stickers is that religiously-motivated individuals asked the board to do it! The judge even conceded that the statement that evolution is a theory and not a fact does not inherently violate the effect prong of the Lemon test. The court held that the reason why the statement violates the effect prong is that a lot of people support that statement for religious reasons. In the oral hearings at the appeals court, Judge Carnes told an attorney something like, "I don't think y'all can contest any of the sentences [of the textbook stickers]. It's a theory and not a fact -- the book supports that."
Also, the "purpose" and "effect" prong analyses are glaringly inconsistent: the purpose prong analysis says that the "Court does not rely on communications from these individuals" (i.e., citizens who supported the stickers by means of a petition and a letter submitted to the board) and cited precedent in support of that position, but the effect prong analysis says that the Court did rely on communications from these individuals. Also, it is very disturbing that such great importance is attached to a single letter from just one citizen, Marjorie Rogers, even though that citizen was apparently an activist. Also, controversies over the following matters have apparently still not been settled: the letter could not be found, there was confusion over whether the petition was submitted before or after the stickers were adopted, and the petition was not entered into the evidence. Information about these controversies is here, here, here, and here.
Also, the opinion says, "the Cobb County School Board appears to have sided with these religious-motivated individuals," but there is no evidence to support that conclusion. In fact, in the "purpose" prong analysis, the opinion said, "The School Board sought to show consideration for their constituents' personal beliefs regarding the origin of life while still maintaining a posture of neutrality towards religion."
The Selman decision, in ruling that a particular thing that does not mention anything connected to religion and that contains no religious symbols is nonetheless a government endorsement of religion, is arbitrary in the extreme. Such a decision must be unique in the annals of establishment clause jurisprudence. Even in the Dover lawsuit, the ID statement that was read to the students arguably had a religious connotation because the word "design" implies the existence of a supernatural "designer."
Despite these excesses of the Selman decision, the Darwinists of course will not concede that the court went too far. In fact, the Darwinists filed an amicus brief urging the court to rule against the defendants.
BTW, the title "Traipsing into breathtaking inanity" is a combination of words used in the Kitzmiller v. Dover opinion. This title was inspired by the title of the Discovery Institute's new book, "Traipsing into Evolution."
Labels: Selman v. Cobb County