I have to teach my kids WHAT?
July 21, 1925
Dayton, Tennessee 1925
How did it all begin? Who is behind all of this? Is a mad professor standing behind the curtain pulling the switches? Is it the great “Oz”? Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? Who should I ask for information? College Ph.D.’s? My former professors?
One of my tenured professors told me during a class lecture that Clarence Darrow was right and Williams Jennings Bryan was a fool. If you follow up on this statement, you will recognize with clarity exactly where this history professor planted his flag. Looking back, I find it somewhat offensive that this man influenced hundreds, if not thousands of young minds who sat in on his lectures. Young inquisitive minds are easily impressed. As for me, I have any real interest in the matter, but I do recall how ardently this professor pressed this issue. Yet, here I sit forty-four years after the fact with a very clear recollection of that particular lecture.
If you recall the Scopes trial of 1925 Tennessee v. John T. Scopes. This was known as the Scopes Monkey Trial. William Jennings Bryan was the lawyer for the Great State of Tennessee, a professed Christian and conservative thinker. Clarence Darrow represented the ACLU, the son of a noted atheist who was been referred to as "a nonconforming spirit, a skeptical mind, and freelance politics that drifted toward cynicism."
There could not have been a greater clash of titans in a courtroom. Bryan, a noted speaker, who at the age of 36 was the youngest man ever nominated by the Democratic Party to run for President of the United States. He was a fire-brand opposed to the moral decay he saw rising in the world of academia and strongly opposed the poisonous influence of the unproven hypothesis of evolution.
Bryan identified evolution as “the most paralyzing influence with which civilization has had to contend during the last century.” The next year, he stepped to prominence on the issue when he published a full-fledged attack on evolution in a pamphlet, “The Menace of Darwinism.” In his pamphlet, distributed throughout the country, Bryan warned, “Under the pretense of teaching science, instructors who draw their salaries from the public treasury are undermining the religious faith of students by substituting belief in Darwinism for belief in the Bible.” He argued that persons “who worship brute ancestors” should “build their colleges and employ their teachers” rather than use the public schools to preach their “godless doctrine.” For Bryan, opposition to the teaching of evolution sprung almost as much from his deep-seated majoritarian instincts as from his worries about the “consummately dangerous” theory. (I strongly recommend you read this short biographical sketch: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/scopes/bryanw.htm)
It is my opinion, which was formed after reading through the history of this trial, the entire issue was manufactured by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) with two goals in mind: First, it was an effort to overturn the Butler Act, a law that had been passed by the legislature of the state of Tennessee which made teaching the idea and concept of evolution a misdemeanor. Second, it was an attempt to confront religious control within the national educational system.
Bryan saw the case as straightforward. The “real issue,” he asserted, is “the right of the people speaking through the legislature, to control the schools which they create and support.” What right did the A.C.L.U. have to challenge the sovereign voice of the State of Tennessee? He stated before hearing of the case, “The contest between evolution and Christianity is a duel to the death. If evolution wins, Christianity goes.”