In the Scopes Trial, discuss the issues argued by Mr. Scopes, the teacher (the defendant), and the school system (the plaintiff).  

The main issue in the Scopes trial came down to the Butler Act, a law in Tennessee that made teaching evolution a misdemeanor. The defense's arguments focused primarily on emphasizing the importance of teaching science and evolution and why they are valid, and the prosecution focused mostly on the Butler act as a vital educational standard.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Scopes Trial began in 1925 and was the prosecution of Tennessee science teacher John Scopes, who had been arrested for teaching evolution at a public school. A recent bill, the Butler Act, had made teaching evolution illegal. The trial pitted two highly accomplished and rather famous attorneys against each other, William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow. The defense used the trial to question how constitutional the Butler Act was and also emphasize the validity of evolution.

Bryan was a devout Christian who focused a significant part of his legal strategy on advocating for the rural Christian values Tennessee needed to uphold. Darrow, on the other hand, began with a lengthy and passionate speech about the constitutionality of the Butler Act, the importance of freedom of religion, and the validity of science. He had planned to call expert witnesses, scientists, to attest to evolution's importance, but the judge said such testimony would be inadmissible.

Darrow had to come up with a new defense strategy, and he used Bryan to do it. Bryan spent extensive time emphasizing the importance of the Bible's teachings in the courtroom, so Darrow called him as an expert witness to the Bible. He grilled Bryan about multiple biblical stories and concepts and how practical or valid their literal interpretation might be. Eventually, though, the judge ruled that testimony inadmissible as well.

Ultimately, the court sided with the Butler Act and convicted Scopes, levying a $100 fine. Darrow appealed the case up to the Supreme Court, who upheld the Butler Act but acquitted Scopes, holding that he had been fined excessively. The teaching of evolution in Tennessee classrooms was banned until 1967, when the Butler Act was repealed.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team