John T Essay, Research Paper
In March 1925, Tennessee passed a law that made teaching evolution a crime.
The state legislature passed the law forbidding public schools to teach the
theory taught by Darwin, that humans evolved from lower forms of life through
evolution, rather than from a single omnipotent creator as suggested in the
biblical book of Genesis. The American Civil Liberties Union was outraged this
restriction and promised to defend any teacher who challenged the new law. John
T. Scopes a football coach and substitute biology teacher from Dayton, was
arrested for violating the law, after he had volunteered to serve as a test case
for the ACLU by teaching evolution to his class. In his biology class, Scopes
read several passages from Civic Biology a textbook banned by the legislature
for its theories on evolution.
In July of that summer Scope’s trial became a headline media event. The
American Civil Liberties Union hired Clarence Darrow, one the most famous trial
lawyer of the day, to defend Scopes. William Jennings Bryan, the former
secretary of state, three-time presidential candidate, and strongly Presbyterian
anti-evolutionist was hired to argued for prosecution.
The Scope trail was not just a fight over evolution and the role of science
and religion in public schools and in American society, but a fight for the
sharing of new ideas. News of the trial brought crowds of protesters and
reporters into the small town in overwhelming numbers. This trial with it’s
controversial popularity brought with it the first radio broadcast of a trial in
history. Almost overnight, the trail became a national sensation. The trial’s
climax occurred when Darrow’s request for expert testimony from scientists was
rejected and he decided instead to take Bryan onto the witness stand as an
expert on religion and the bible. This was the contest that everyone had been
waiting for. To handle the throngs of Bryan supporters, Judge Raulston moved the
court outside to a platform built under a group of maple trees near the
courthouse. Standing before a crowd of more than 2,000, Darrow relentlessly
questioned Bryan about his beliefs about the literal interpretation of the
bible. Bryan admitted that the Bible might be interpreted in different ways by
different people. But in spite of this admission, Scope was found guilty and
fined $100. Although Scope’s was convicted, many modernists claimed victory. The
testimony, they believed, had shown fundamentalism to be illogical. The Supreme
Court later changed the verdict to a fine and lowerd Scope’s fine to 50$ on a
technicality, but the law outlawing the teaching of evolution was not addressed,
and stayed on books long after the trial.
The Scopes Trial had a great impact on the lives of the people in the 1920’s.
One of these impact was that the trial had educating people on evolution and
dispelled several myths. The peoples minds in the 1920’s were now opening up to
a new theories that dealt with the religious aspects that they had been held to
for so long. The media, through radio and newspapers, expanded by this trial,
was an important tool in giving the public more information on the topic of
evolution and several other controversies and events of the 1920’s. Another
impact the Scope Trial was the decision of the state and local government came
to, that science and religion were not compatible. This case was not about the
separation of religion and state, but about not mixing science and religion
together. This clash over evolution was clear evidence of just one of the many
changes and conflict occurring during the 1920’s.