1925 May 25

John T. Scopes Indicted: Scopes Case Begins


On this day, biology teacher John T. Scopes was indicted by a grand jury in Dayton, Tennessee, for violating the new Tennessee law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in public schools. The indictment set in motion the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, which began on July 10, 1925, and became one of the most famous trials in American history. The Scopes case was a landmark test of the freedom to teach and the question of the place of religion in American life.At the time of the Scopes trial, anti-evolution laws existed in Minnesota, North Dakota, Missouri, Alabama, and Arkansas. (A proposed law in West Virginia had been defeated.)

Scopes was convicted, but the conviction was overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court on a technicality (January 15, 1927), but because the state did not appeal or retry Scopes, there was never a Supreme Court decision on the Tennessee anti-evolution law. Decades later, the Supreme Court struck down a similar Arkansas law in Epperson v. Arkansas on November 12, 1968.

Inherit the Wind is a play and a movie based on the famous Scopes trial (see April 21, 1955). While many parts of the plot are inventions and are overly melodramatic, much of the cross-examination of the Bryan character (played by Frederick March) by the Darrow character (played by Spencer Tracy is taken directly from the trial transcript and is riveting.

Watch a documentary on the Scopes trial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMWXc365HMU

Learn more about the case: Edward J. Larson, Summer for 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

And more about the trial: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/scopes/scopes.htm

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