This post is going to be the first of a brand new series that will take a look at famous cases throughout history. For the inaugural post, we will be taking a look at one of America’s most well known cases: The Scopes Trial, formally known as The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes and alternatively called the Scopes Monkey Trial.
This trial is important to history because of its theological implications and the controversy that erupted from it, affecting the way evolution is taught in modern day schools across America. It took place in July of 1925, a primary reason why this particular case is being chosen. The case revolved around one John Thomas Scopes, a high school substitute teacher, and his supposed teaching of human evolution. Such a thing was said to be in violation of Tennessee’s Butler Act, which was a law that prohibited public school teachers from denying the Biblical account of man’s origin. It also prevented the teaching of evolution. Another thing that made this case highly unique and memorable is the fact that it was all deliberately staged for the purpose of attracting publicity to the small town of Dayton, Tennessee where the trial was held.
John Scopes himself agreed to be tried for violating the Butler Act. This was financed by the American Civil Liberties Union as a response to the Butler Act itself. The two sides had brought in some of the biggest names in the nation, with Clarence Darrow for defense and William Jennings Bryan for prosecution. The trial was even followed on radio transmissions nationwide. In the end, Scopes was found guilty and fine $ 100, although the verdict was overturned due to a technicality. The fine was imposed before Scopes was given the opportunity to say anything that could have prevented the imposing of the fine. Regardless of how it turned out, the trial had served its purpose of drawing national publicity.
Today, it is remembered for its publicizing of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy, setting the modernists against the fundamentalists. It revealed a growing chasm in American Christianity and escalated the legal and political conflict between scientists and strict creationists in the bid to influence the extent in which evolution would be taught in schools. Overall, the trial had both long term and short term effects when it comes to the teaching of science in United States schools.