The Scopes Trial of 1925


In 1925, the state of Tennessee passed the Butler Act, which outlawed the teaching of "any theory that denies the divine creation of man and teaches instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals." The ACLU offered to defend any teacher accused of violating the Act, and John Scopes agreed to incriminate himself by teaching evolution.

With William Jennings Bryan among the prosecutors, Clarence Darrow among the defense, and journalist H.L. Mencken covering the proceedings, Scopes' "Monkey Trial" focused an unprecedented amount of public attention on the creationism/evolution controversy. However, the case had little impact on the actual legal issues involved. Scopes was rapidly convicted, and upon his appeal the Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed the Butler Act to be constitutional; but the court also overturned his conviction on a technicality, blocking any chance to take the case to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Recommended links

  • Scopes Trial Home Page — A comprehensive collection of material about the 1925 Scopes trial, compiled by law professor Douglas Linder
  • Monkey Trial — Web site for the American Experience's documentary on the Scopes trial, including audiovisual material and a guide on using the documentary and the web site in the classroom

Recommended Reading

Summer for the Gods
Larson, Edward J.
New York: HarperCollins. (1997)
A Pulitzer-Prize-winning re-evaluation of the 1925 Scopes "monkey" trial and its relevance to the creation/evolution controversy today.

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