Today in History: The 'Monkey Trial' Begins
On this day in 1925, evolution versus Divine Creation took center stage.
A debate that continues today, the "Monkey Trial" took place in 1925 when a Tennessee man was accused of breaking a state law, called the Butler Law, that prohibited the teaching of the theory of evolution.
According to History.com, John Thomas Scopes conspired with others in an effort to get charged with the misdemeanor so he could bring the issue in front of a large audience.
Should public schools teach the theory of evolution or Divine Creation or both?
In March of 1925 a law was passed in Tennessee making it a misdemeanor to "teach any 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" according to History.com.
Considered one of the most famous trials in U.S. history, the "Monkey Trial" reportedly brought thousands of people to the town of Dayton, TN during the trial. Some came for the fanfare and some came to see the big name attorneys fighting on both sides of the issue.
William Jennings Bryan, three-time presidential candidate argued for the prosecution, while famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow argued for Scopes, according to Wikipedia.
The judge overruled the defense's motion to have the Butler law declared unconstitutional. According to an NPR article, the judge said in his ruling that the law "gives no preference to any particular religion or mode of worship. Our public schools are not maintained as places of worship, but, on the contrary, were designed, instituted, and are maintained for the purpose of mental and moral development and discipline."
In the end, Scopes was found guilty and was ordered to pay a $100 fine.
In 1927 the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the Monkey Trial verdict on a technicality but the constitutional issues remained unresolved until 1968, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a similar law on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment, according to History.com.
In 2005 another court battle ensued when parents pushed back against the teaching of "intelligent design" by the Dover Area School Board in Pennsylvania. According to an MSNBC article, a federal judge said that the concept of “intelligent design” was creationism in disguise.