1927 January 15

Scopes Conviction is Overturned


The Tennessee Supreme Court, on this day, overturned the conviction of teacher John T. Scopes who, on May 5, 1925, was charged with violating the Butler Act, which prohibited the teaching of evolution in Tennessee schools. He was tried in a case known as the Scopes “Monkey Trial,” which began on July 10, 1925, and ended with his conviction on July 21, 1925. The State of Tennessee, embarrassed by the controversy over the Butler Act, did not appeal. As a result, there is no U.S. Supreme Court test of the First Amendment issues raised by the law. Forty-one years later, the U.S. Supreme Court in Epperson v. Arkansas, decided November 12, 1968, declared unconstitutional a similar anti-evolution law unconstitutional.

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.

The battle over science vs. evolution has never ended, however, and religious fundamentalists have continued to devise ways of putting religious doctrine into public school curricula. For the most recent example, see the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, decided December 20, 2005, on the issue of “intelligent design.”

Learn more: http://www.tennessee.gov/tsla/exhibits/scopes/

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 and religion: http://ncse.com/

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

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