The World of Law: A Treasury of Great Writing about and in the Law, Short Stories, Plays, Essays, Accounts, Letters, Opinions, Pleas, Transcripts of Testimony; from Biblical Times to the Present - Vol. 2

By Ephraim London | Go to book overview

H. L. Mencken


THE SCOPES TRIAL

Be it enacted--that it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the universities, normals, and all other public schools in the state, which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the state, to teach the theory that denies the story of the divine creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.

This statute was passed by the legislature of the state of Tennesse on March 21, 1925. It was a climax in a struggle that had split American Protestants into two warring camps. On the one side were the fundamentalists--those who believed in the letter of the Bible and who refused to accept any teaching that conflicted with it. On the other side were the modernists (or liberals), who, like the medieval scholastics, tried to reconcile faith with reason. The Tennessee legislature, dominated by fundamentalists, decided to deliver a powerful blow to the body of the modernists.

A few strong-minded liberals in the small town of Dayton, Tennessee, decided to put the law to a test. They persuaded John Thomas Scopes, a teacher of biology at the local high school, to allow himself to be caught red-handed in the act of teaching evolution to his pupils. Thus began a drama that was soon ballyhooed by an irreverent press into a great national circus occupying the attention of the entire world through the summer days of 1925. William Jennings Bryan, the Great Commoner--famous orator, leader of the free-silver forces, thrice-defeated candidate for President of the United States, former Secretary of State, and zealous, indefatigable champion of the Bible--volunteered his services to the prosecution. Clarence

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