Difference between revisions of "Scopes Trial"

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The law challenged by the [[ACLU]] in the Scopes Trial remained in effect for over 50 more years.  In 1967, Tennessee repealed the Butler Act, and in 1968, the Supreme Court ruled in ''Epperson v. Arkansas'', 393 U.S. 97, that such bans on teaching are unconstitutional if they are primarily religious in intent.  
 
The law challenged by the [[ACLU]] in the Scopes Trial remained in effect for over 50 more years.  In 1967, Tennessee repealed the Butler Act, and in 1968, the Supreme Court ruled in ''Epperson v. Arkansas'', 393 U.S. 97, that such bans on teaching are unconstitutional if they are primarily religious in intent.  
  
Tennessee continued to downplay evolution in its schools until 2005.<ref>http://www.edexcellence.net/institute/publication/publication.cfm?id=352&pubsubid=1169#1169</ref>
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Tennessee continued to downplay evolution in its schools until 2005.<ref>http://www.edexcellence.net/institute/publication/publication.cfm?id=352&pubsubid=1169#1169</ref> Tennessee native Al Gore, aligned with supporters of evolution and public school teachers' unions, became the first presidential candidate in history to lose the election by losing his own home state in 2000.
  
 
==References==   
 
==References==   

Revision as of 18:32, 17 May 2007

The Scopes Trial of 1925 was engineered as a challenge to the Tennessee Butler Act that prohibited the teaching of evolution in publically funded schools and universities. The willing defendant, John Scopes, was convicted of violating the Butler act, though the conviction was later overturned on a technicality. The Scopes trial was made infamous in 1955 with the play Inherit the Wind, and the 1960 Hollywood motion picture with the same title; both works took great artistic license.

Publicity Conspiracy

The Scopes trial began as a conspiracy among town leaders at a drugstore in Dayton, Tennessee, in response to a newspaper advertisement placed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) offering to provide legal services to anyone willing to be prosecuted under the Butler Act.[1] Town leaders agreed that a trial would provide publicity to the town,[2] whose population had dwindled to 1,800.[3] The town leaders found a willing defendent in John Scopes, a gym teacher and football coach who also substituted (sometimes as a biology teacher), though Scopes could not recall ever teaching evolution.[4] John Scopes told the town leaders, "If you can prove that I've taught evolution and that I can qualify as a defendant, then I'll be willing to stand trial."

Grand Jury

Racing other Tennessee towns, Judge John T. Raulston accelerated the convening of the grand jury and "...all but instructed the grand jury to indict Scopes, despite the meager evidence against him and the widely reported stories questioning whether the willing defendant had ever taught evolution in the classroom."[5] He was indicted on May 25, after three students testified against Scopes at the Grand Jury, at Scopes' behest.[6]

The Trial

The trial in 1925 of John Scopes for teaching evolution in Tennessee was a defeat of Darwinism. The ACLU and liberal trial lawyer Clarence Darrow brought the Scopes case in the hopes of winning a public relations and legal victory, but in fact William Jennings Bryan, the evangelical Christian who had been Secretary of State in the Wilson Administration, decisively beat them.

The ACLU challenged a Tennessee statute, the Butler Act, that imposed a fine for teaching in public school that man descended from more primitive life forms. The statute did not prohibit teaching most aspects of evolution. The textbook at issue in the case taught eugenics, including that man supposedly descended from lower life forms and that some racial groups had evolved to more advanced levels than others.

The textbook also featured the fraudulent Piltdown Man. At the time, Darwinists claimed that this and eugenics were indisputable science to be taught to students.

Bryan quoted for the court how Darrow had previously claimed that murder defendants Leopold and Loeb were driven to crime by what they were taught, which was Nietzche's atheistic philosophy. Bryan quoted Darrow as saying that "Is there any blame attached because somebody took Nietzsche's philosophy seriously and fashioned his life on it? ... The university would be more to blame than he is. ... Your honor, it is hardly fair to hang a 19-year-old boy for the philosophy that was taught him at the university."

Bryan was an extraordinary speaker, recognized to be among the best in American history. Darrow wanted to prevent Bryan from making a persuasive closing argument to the jury, and Darrow searched for another way to try to score points for his side.

So Darrow stunned the court by requesting to cross-examine Bryan, in the hope that Bryan, like many attorneys, would be a poor witness. Darrow's attempt was unprecedented, because trial attorneys almost never take the witness stand in their own cases. Bryan agreed only on the condition that he could cross-examine Darrow. Based on that agreement, Bryan took the witness stand.

A witness in a trial is always at a disadvantage on cross-examination, because he can only answer questions that are posed by a hostile adversary. On cross-examination, Attorneys are allowed to ask leading(yes or no) questions to force the desired response, unlike on direct examination. Attorneys are particularly vulnerable, because their knowledge of the law and tendency to speak in legalese hinder their performance.

Darrow undoubtedly thought that he could turn Bryan into the proverbial buffoon that liberals wanted. The transcript can be interpreted in a variety of fashions, largely dependent on the preconceptions of the translator, allowing one to see Darrow's attempts as either a success or failure. Here is a sample of the transcript:[7]

Bryan--These gentlemen have not had much chance--they did not come here to try this case. They came here to try revealed religion. I am here to defend it and they can ask me any question they please.

Judge--All right. (Applause in audience.) …

Bryan--Those [the audience] are the people whom you insult.

Darrow--You insult every man of science and learning in the world because he does believe in your fool religion. ....

Darrow: Wait until you get to me [N.B. this apparently refers to Darrow's agreement to be a witness]. Do you know anything about how many people there were in Egypt 3,500 years ago, or how many people there were in China 5,000 years ago?

Bryan --No.

Darrow--Have you ever tried to find out?

Bryan--No, sir. You are the first man I ever heard of who has been in interested in it. (Laughter)

Darrow--Mr. Bryan, am I the first man you ever heard of who has been interested in the age of human societies and primitive man?

Bryan--You are the first man I ever heard speak of the number of people at those different periods.

Darrow--Where have you lived all your life?

Bryan--Not near you. (Laughter and applause).

Darrow tried again and again to trap Bryan, but struck out each time. A later exchange ended, once again, with the audience laughing:

Darrow--I will read it to you from the Bible: "And the Lord God said unto the serpent, because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life." Do you think that is why the serpent is compelled to crawl upon its belly?

Bryan--I believe that.

Darrow--Have you any idea how the snake went before that time?

Bryan--No, sir.

Darrow--Do you know whether he walked on his tail or not?

Bryan--No, sir. I have no way to know. (Laughter in audience).

The next day, it was Darrow's turn to be cross-examined. But Darrow stunned the public by giving up rather than upholding his end of the bargain. Darrow took the unprecedented step of asking the jury for a guilty verdict against his client, the defendant teacher John Scopes.[8]

After 8 days of trial, the jury gave Darrow exactly what he requested, after 9 minutes of deliberation. Scopes was found guilty on July 21 and ordered to pay a fine of $100 US, which was eliminated on a technicality on appeal.

The movie and play

The play Inherit the Wind, and the adapted movie, were fictional accounts of the Scopes Trial.[9] Several modifications were made; characters names were changed, and many crucial facts were changed. The authors have said that the play was really an attempt to mock Senator Joseph McCarthy, and to equate anti-communism with anti-intellectualism.[10] The movie featured the popular Spencer Tracy as Clarence Darrow, and even garnered a few Academy Award nominations.

The movie features an angry mob trying to lynch a jailed teacher; in fact, the ACLU ran advertisements with offers to pay expenses for a teacher to volunteer for the case, and Scopes was never jailed and never paid even a fine.

The movie version heaped mockery on any argument that teaching evolution could be socially harmful.

The movie portrayed the character based on Bryan as a complete buffoon. Bryan's death was also portrayed as happening in the courthouse, when in fact he was an elderly man suffering from diabetes who died peacefully in his sleep.

American history books often describe this case as a catalyst for evolution supporters.[11]

Aftermath

Bryan, a 65-year-old diabetic lacking in modern treatments, died peacefully in his sleep five days after the conclusion of the Scopes trial. Bryan's victory in the Scopes trial was a fitting end to a principled, illustrious career.[12] Scopes never had to pay the fine - the judge had set the amount but Tennessee law at the time prohibited judges from setting fines over $50.

The law challenged by the ACLU in the Scopes Trial remained in effect for over 50 more years. In 1967, Tennessee repealed the Butler Act, and in 1968, the Supreme Court ruled in Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, that such bans on teaching are unconstitutional if they are primarily religious in intent.

Tennessee continued to downplay evolution in its schools until 2005.[13] Tennessee native Al Gore, aligned with supporters of evolution and public school teachers' unions, became the first presidential candidate in history to lose the election by losing his own home state in 2000.

References

  1. Larson 2006, Linder 2002. See also Coulter 2006
  2. Larson 2006
  3. Linder 2002
  4. Larson 2006. See also Coulter 2006
  5. Larson 2006, p. 108
  6. Larson 2006, p. 89, 107
  7. http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/scopes/day7.htm
  8. http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/scopes/day8.htm
  9. http://www.themonkeytrial.com/
  10. http://www.onthemedia.org/transcripts/2005/07/08/07
  11. The Enduring Vision, Fifth Edition, Chapter 23: The 1920s: Coping with Change, Paul S. Boyer, University of Wisconsin, Madison; Clifford E. Clark, Jr., Carleton College; et al. (a commonly used American history textbook for Advanced Placement US History classes).
  12. http://gi.grolier.com/presidents/ea/side/bryan.html
  13. http://www.edexcellence.net/institute/publication/publication.cfm?id=352&pubsubid=1169#1169

Sources