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The Scopes Trial: The Case for Teaching Evolution The Scopes trial set the stage for widespread acceptance of teaching Evolution in America's classrooms. During the early 1900s an anti-evolution movement swept through the United States. Helping ease the commotion was the fact that very few Americans attended high school during the nineteenth century. Almost none attended schools in the southern states. The anti-evolution crusade lacked a specific political or legal objective until Kentuckys Baptist State Board of Missions passed a resolution calling for a state law against teaching evolution in public schools in 1921. The law fell victim to defeat in the Lower House and no further action was taken.
A succession of defeats in the U.S. courts has afflicted those groups of parents, teachers, and legislators who have crafted state laws that would allow or require the teaching of views about human origins and development that differ from the hard Darwinian line, views that take seriously the possibility of intelligent design and purpose and allow the inference from it to a Creator. The first of these great defeats -- actually, a Pyrrhic victory -- was of course the humiliation of William Jennings Bryan at the Scopes "monkey trial" in 1925, at the hands of Clarence Darrow and his appreciative corps of sophisticated and scornful journalists, including the acidulous H. L. Mencken. The most recent major legal defeat for the effort to break the hard- Darwinian monopoly came in 1987, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana statute in Edwards v. Aguillard.The Edwards decision had something in common with earlier hard- Darwinian victories: It was based on the view that the only alternative to full-strength Darwinism is a thinly veiled Fundamentalist creation science that can be easily dismissed as an impermissible attempt to establish religious orthodoxy in science teaching.
But the problems with hard Darwinism have not been exclusively religious: The list of its scientific and philosophical opponents is long and impressive. In 1923 the anti-evolutionists scored their first legislative victories in Oklahoma and Florida. This was the first time in history that a state legislature formally banned the theory of evolution. Following this, many other states tried to produce the same results. Most states compromised and passed an advisory resolution rather than a law to avoid any risk of a lawsuit. The movement against evolution was strongest, clearly, in the South and the border states, and it was far from negligible in Midwest and California (Ginger 65). The Butler Bill stated it was an Act prohibiting the teaching of the Evolution Theory in all Universities, Normals, and all other public schools of Tennessee, which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State.
Fundamentalists applauded the Butler bill for being an important step toward securing a purely Christian agenda for public schools. On January 28, 1925, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed the Butler Bill by a majority of 71 to 5 votes. The bill was then passed to the Senate, where the vote tallied at 24 to 6 in favor of the bill. The bill was then forwarded to Tennessee governor Austin Peay, an old-fashioned Baptist, who once stated, Be loyal to your religion, making it obvious to the public that the bill would not be vetoed. Only eight days later the Butler Bill was signed by Governor Austin Peay with no alterations to the original. Governor Peay stated, Butler Act was intended as gesture rather than as active statute (Ginger 18). Several days later the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) published an advertisement for a test case of the Butler Bill. The advertisement stated, We are looking for a Tennessee teacher to accept our services in testing this law in the courts. Our lawyers think a friendly test can be arranged without costing a teacher his or her job. Distinguished counsel have volunteered their services.
All we need now is a willing client (Webb 85). That day, 31 year old George W. Rappleyea read the proposal. He was a very powerful man and knew many people. Rappleyea heard of a teacher by the name of John Thomas Scopes who might fill this occupation so he sent for him. George was a mining engineer who managed six coal and iron mines for Cumberland Coal Company. He was intellectual and a magnificent negotiator. Upon arrival of Scopes, Rappleyea produced the ACLU advertisement and made a proposal to Scopes. George stated, Its a bad law.
Lets get rid of it. [If you accept] I will swear out a warrant and have you arrested (Ginger 20). Due to Rappleyeas persistence, Scopes accepted and was arrested on May 7, 1925. George wired the ACLU in New York and they agreed to support Scopes with financial help, publicity, and legal advice. Rappleyea then wired the media stating, Something has happened thats going to put Dayton on the map (Summer 91). The next day the local paper headlined, J.T. Scopes, head of science department of the Rhea County High School, was charged with violating the recently enacted law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in the public schools of Tennessee (Summer 91). John Thomas Scopes was a twenty-four-year-old graduate of the University of Kentucky.
Scopes was the ideal defendant for a test case against a newly enacted Butler Bill. He currently was in his second year of teaching as the head of the science department at a local school. He taught physics, math, and coached football. John was a modest man, making him very popular in the community. Scopes was single and appeared academic with his glasses and his boyish face. He was naturally shy and cooperative.
His close friends knew he disapproved of the new law and accepted an evolutionary view of human origins. John believed evolution was easily reconciled with the Bible. Due to Rappleyeas actions, he was now widely disliked for filing the original complaint against Scopes as a legal maneuver. Scopes friends planned to waylay Rappleyea and punish him severely for betraying friendship. A preliminary hearing was held May 10th with three squires. They charged Scopes for the teaching of evolution from, the best selling text in the field, Civic Biology to his class on April 24th.
Bond was set at one thousand dollars. Shortly after, the ACLU announced, We shall take the Scopes case to the United States Supreme Court if necessary to establish that a teacher may tell the truth without being thrown in jail (Ginger 20). All this publicity led the teaching of evolution to become an important political issue. On May 25th the district judge called a special meeting of the grand jury to indict Scopes before another town could steal the show. The small town of Dayton planned to hold the Trial of the Century. A local newspaper proclaimed, Dayton could not have overlooked such an opportunity to secure front page advertising space throughout the civilized world (Summer 94). The town prepared as main street merchants decorated their shops with pictures of apes and monkeys, billboards featured long tail primates drinking sodas, and a delivery van bore the words Monkeyville Express. The post office hired extra employees and a souvenir coin portrayed a monkey wearing a straw hat was produced.
An estimated thirty thousand people were expected to attend the trial. This provided Dayton with a huge problem. Dayton currently had a population of less than one thousand-eighth hundred and only three hotels were in the town. The three hotels combined for a total of two hundred rooms. Three options were now possible for the court proceedings. One, Place a roof over the baseball park. Two, transfer the case to Chattanooga which could provide more dignified facilities for the event and adequate accommodations for visitors.
Three, Fill every inch of the courtroom with seats, place benches on huge lawn, and use loud speakers, and set up Army tents and cots to stay in. Since Dayton had the second largest courtroom in the state the third option prevailed. Dayton was a fairly new town that was fundamentally disconnected from the state and region. Most of Tennessee and the south were Baptist but Dayton was mostly Methodists and a high amount of residence belonged to no denomination. Every major newspaper of the state criticized Dayton for staging the trial with lashings like, Now that the trial has been put in advertising class, monkey has become the most popular word in Daytons vocabulary (Summer 105). Dayton, as a whole, believed, We do not believe that the right of free speech or religious liberty warrants any man or set of men to teach our children any theory which has its purpose or tendency of discrediting our religion ( Ginger 72). Some of Rappleyeas friends thought about abduction as a possible public stunt but word spread in advance and the hoax was abandoned when half the town, in a different spirit, showed there eagerness to help.
Trial promoters worked hard to persuade British evolutionist writer H.G. Wells to defend evolution but he declined since he was not a lawyer. Scopes became embarrassed because he thought it was a public affair not a national one. Johns dad reassured him by saying, He had an unusual chance to serve his country (Ginger 45). It seemed that the Scopes trial was not intended to raise the issue of evolution but to show that Tennessees 1925 anti-evolution legislation violated the first amendment. The first amendment of the United States Constitution states, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of ....
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