Please God, Save This Honorable Court: The Emergence of the Conservative Religious Bar
SHORTLY before he was to begin his historic confrontation in a Dayton, Tennessee, courtroom with Clarence Darrow over the meaning of the Bible and its place in American public education, William Jennings Bryan told a throng of assembled supporters that the Scopes trial was more than just his personal effort to save "the Christian Church from those who are trying to destroy her faith." With charm and charisma pouring from the shadow where he stood, Bryan announced that his case posed an equally disturbing question: Can a minority use the courts to force its ideas upon the schools and the larger society? Majorities acted with the natural self-restraint that the Constitution required. If the Godless were indeed a majority, then by all means elect them. And if they were not, then was it fair to have the courts impose their will on an unwelcoming citizenry through constitutional edict ( Ginger 1958, 90)?
To Bryan, of course, the answer was no. Today a movement of Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists three generations removed from the Scopes trial of the 1920s seeks to frame a legal debate on issues of church and state in the same manner. Through skill and determination, today's conservative Christians have the potential to leave their mark on the constitutional relationship between church and state with far greater success than any of their predecessors.
This chapter addresses three major questions in an effort to place the rise of the conservative religious legal movement in the broader context of