Scopes Trial

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Scopes Trial

For several days in July of 1925, a high school math teacher in Dayton, Tennessee became the most reported-on man in America. He was not an actor, an athlete, or a politician. He was on trial for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution. The trial later came to be known as “Scopes Trial,” after John Scopes, the defendant. But this was not a trial to see what punishment he would receive. This trial pitted Protestant fundamentalists against the American Civil Liberties Union. In the end, although Scopes was convicted, many saw the victory go to the ACLU.

The Butler Act in Tennessee forbade the teaching of human evolution as written by Charles Darwin. In its place, teachers were to only teach the story of Creation as found in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. This, and thirty-six similar laws, was seen as an infringement on civil liberties. Upon learning of this new law, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), located in New York, placed advertisements in Tennessee newspapers in an attempt to find a teacher willing to stand up to the law.

John Thomas Scopes, a math teacher and football coach for Rhea County High School in Dayton, Tennessee, was pressured into taking the challenge by a friend, George Rappleyea, who saw the advertisement. With the school’s biology teacher out for the last two weeks of class, Scopes took over and began teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution. Soon after, he was arrested and charged with a violation of the Butler Act. Contrary to popular understanding, the worst punishment for this crime was a small fine.

Upon his arrest, the ACLU took full responsibility for all monetary charges incurred during the course of the trial. The defense appointed the country’s greatest ...

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...agerly awaited by a praying multitude. If the (antievolution) law is nullified, there will be rejoice wherever God is repudiated, the savior scoffed at and the Bible ridiculed. Every unbeliever of every kind and degree will be happy. If, on the other hand, the law is upheld and the religion of the school children protected, millions of Christians will call you blessed.

This trial, likewise, represented a continuing cultural and philosophical divide between the North and South. In fact, Scopes Trial galvanized the great intellects and literary men who spearheaded the Southern agrarian movement to organize themselves into a coherent opposition. They took a stand for Southern civilization against what they considered as the encroachments of a modern world, long on liberty, industry, and utilitarianism, and short on poetry, imagination, and regional diversity.
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