July 10, 1925: Scopes ‘Monkey’ Trial begins

Tennessee Gov. Austin Peay on March 21, 1925, signed into law a bill that would ban the teaching of evolution or any theory denying the Bible’s account of the creation of man. It’s called the Butler law, named for Tennessee Rep. John Washington Butler.

Newspapers published items weeks later noting the American Civil Liberties Union’s request for teachers to challenge the Butler law in courts. John T. Scopes, a 24-year-old biology teacher in Dayton, Tenn., came forward. He was later indicted by a grand jury.

William Jennings Bryan, former candidate for U.S. presidency, signed on as the state’s attorney. He was a leader in the anti-evolution movement and believed in the literal interpretation of the Bible.

Defense attorney Clarence Darrow, well-known for defending radical figures, represented Scopes. He was an affirmed agnostic.

The trial began with jury selection on July 10, 1925. The Herald went to press with these items the next day.

Prosecution counsel in the Scopes case hold that admission of expert testimony of scientists and theologians would convert the trial of the Dayton biology teacher into a joint debate on science and religion.

The purpose of the defense, announced yesterday in the first day of the trial which is testing the Tennessee law against teaching evolution in public schools – will be fought out before Judge Raulston Monday when arguments of contending sides will be presented to the court.

The American Federation of Teachers, in a letter to John T. Scopes in the Tennessee anti-evolution trial, made public today, asserts the public school is on trial at Dayton and that the “danger can only be removed by the final, if not immediate, success” of the defense contentions, “in behalf of freedom of education.”

…The letter, mailed yesterday, expresses the view that the establishment of the principles embodied in the Tennessee law would replace with hypocrisy and cant the professional spirit of scholars.

The jury later returned a guilty verdict and fined Scopes $100.

Read more from the July 11, 1925, edition of The Herald in our collection of historic front pages.

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