The Never Ending Monkey Trial

There is a discussion going on now in Tennessee over what is taught in school textbooks. Various groups are complaining that kids are not being taught “the correct things”, defined as whatever it is the group disagrees with. One man in the radio spoke about “turning the clock back to when kids were taught the right things.” Unfortunately, he did not specify the date he had in mind.

So, I suggest 1925.

In 1925, Tennessee passed the Butler Act, which made it a crime to teach anything other than the biblical origins of Man, as described in the Book of Genesis. John Butler was the head of the World Christian Fundamentals Association. Mr. Butler confessed that he didn’t know anything about evolution; he just didn’t like it. Governor Austin Peay signed it into law, but felt that it would never be enforced.

The ACLU offered to defend anyone accused, and teacher John Scopes took them up on it.
From the start, the defense played to lose, hoping to get the law repealed. Scopes was told to plead guilty and asked students to testify against him.

Clarence Darrow volunteered as defense lawyer, and William Jennings Bryan was counsel to the prosecution.
Many things that happened in the trial would never happen today. One major problem was that the book teachers were forced to use supported evolution! The defense brought in 8 experts, but the judge refused to let all but one testify, forcing the others to supply written testimony that could only be used on appeal. Judge Raulston opened the trial by quoting Genesis and the Butler Act, and told the jury they could not consider the merits of the law, only whether it was violated. The jury was excluded from hearing the defense. In a bold move, on the seventh day, Darrow called Bryan to the stand as a biblical expert, questioning his own views on different bible stories. After two hours, the judge called a halt, ordered the testimony struck from the record, and declared the trial over. The two sides gave their last arguments, and the jury took only 9 minutes to find Scopes guilty. The judge imposed a $100 fine without letting Scopes reply.

For seven days, the whole world listened on the radio, and newspapers lampooned the Tennessee legal system.
The sentence was overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court, but only because the judge imposed the fine himself, which was the jury’s duty.

The Butler Act was Tennessee law until May 18, 1967.

During the trial, Butler said, “I never had any idea my bill would make a fuss. I just thought it would become a law, everybody would abide by it, and that we wouldn’t hear any more of evolution in Tennessee.”

I wish the talk host had asked the speaker to be more specific on which date he had in mind.


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