1968 November 12

Freedom to Teach: Scopes Finally Vindicated


In Epperson v. Arkansas, decided on this day, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional an Arkansas law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in public schools. With this decision, the Court finally addressed the issues raised in the famous Scopes “Monkey Trial,” involving a similar Tennessee law: academic freedom and the place of religion in American public life.

The Scopes case began on July 10, 1925, and Scopes was subsequently convicted of teaching evolution in violation of a recently passed Tennessee law. The case never reached the Supreme Court, however, because the trial judge erred when imposing sentence.The conviction was overturned, and the state of Tennessee, embarrassed by the publicity surrounding the law and the trial, chose not to retry Scopes.

The Court: “Arkansas’ law cannot be defended as an act of religious neutrality. Arkansas did not seek to excise from the curricula of its schools and universities all discussion of the origin of man. The law’s effort was confined to an attempt to blot out a particular theory because of its supposed conflict with the Biblical account, literally read.”

Learn more about Susan Epperson: Peter Irons, The Courage of their Convictions: Sixteen Americans Who Fought Their Way to the Supreme Court (Ch. 9) (1988)

Listen to the oral argument in the case: http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1968/1968_7

Read: Edward J. Larson, Summer of the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion (1997)

Learn more about science education and evolution: http://ncse.com/evolution

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