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Historical Anniversaries

Why These Dates Are Important

July 10, 1925  
Scopes Monkey Trial
Infamous case which upheld a Tennessee law forbidding the teaching of evolution in the classroom.

In 1925, Tennessee had passed this law: "Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, that it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the universities, normals and all other public schools of the State, which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the divine creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals."

Thomas Scopes, a 24 year old high school teacher, George Rappelyea and their friends were discussing this law, with the result that Rappelyea suggested Scopes teach evolution and thus force the law to be brought into a court room; it was his own friends who called the authorities to let them know when he brought up evolution in his class. Having gotten it into the court room, they accepted help from the ACLU in the form of three lawyers: Arthur Garfield Hays, Dudley Field Malone and Clarence Darrow.

The state Attorney General and William Jennings Bryan led the prosecution's team. Bryan had been instrumental in getting the law passed in the first place, having traveled all over the South pushing legislatures to adopt these anti-science laws.

The trial itself came down to whether the bible was a source of truth, giving it precedence over science. At one point, Bryan himself took the stand and Darrow made him look like a fool by questioning his belief in the inerrant truth of the bible.

The court found against Scopes, who was fined $100, but the case was thrown out on a technicality on appeal, and the state's highest court also dismissed the conviction.

Attorney for the Damned, a copy of which is in the ACA library, contains speeches and transcripts from Darrow's most important cases, including almost 50 pages from the Scopes trial. It is highly recommended reading.


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