Tennessee Laws Regarding the Teaching of Evolution Primary Source eText

Primary Source

John Scopes (seated second from left) and others gather around the table where their discussion of the theory of evolution began and ultimately led to Scopes' prosecution in a Tennessee court. © UNDERWOOD & UNDERWOOD/CORBIS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. John Scopes (seated second from left) and others gather around the table where their discussion of the theory of evolution began and ultimately led to Scopes' prosecution in a Tennessee court. © UNDERWOOD & UNDERWOOD/CORBIS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Published by Gale Cengage © UNDERWOOD & UNDERWOOD/CORBIS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.

"Chapter No. 27, House Bill No. 185"; "Chapter No. 237, House Bill No. 48"

Laws

By: Tennessee House of Representatives

Date: March 13, 1925, and March 13, 1967

Source: Chapter No. 27, House Bill No. 185. Public Acts of the State of Tennessee Passed by the Sixty-Fourth General Assembly, 1925.; Chapter No. 237, House Bill No. 48. Public Acts of the State of Tennessee Passed by the Eighty-Fifth General Assembly, 1967.; Available online at http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/scopes/ten... ; website home page: http://www.law.umkc.edu/ (accessed January 28,
2003).

About the Author: In 1925, state representative John Butler sponsored Tennessee's anti-evolution act. Four years earlier, Butler had listened to a Baptist preacher warn the congregation that Darwinism was being taught in all public schools. Butler, who had three boys in school, was outraged that state public schools were undermining his efforts to raise his children as Christians by teaching evolution. Promising to change the law if elected into office, Butler was overwhelming endorsed by district voters. Twenty-five years later the Tennessee House repealed the 1925 law.

Introduction

In many ways, the culture of the 1920s was defined by radio, movies, advertising, and mass-circulation magazines, all promoting a secular culture that celebrated consumerism, social mobility, leisure time, and sexuality. This "modern" culture clashed with "traditional" culture, which honored the values enshrined in Protestant fundamentalism: family, home, frugality, hard work, and belief in a literal interpretation of the Bible. Modern Americans, who dismissed traditionalists as "hayseed fanatics," championed evolution, which held that mankind evolved from primates.

In the 1920s, three-time Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan launched a crusade to forbid schoolteachers in state high schools from teaching any theory that denied the biblical account of divine creation. Bryan was concerned not only about the corrupting influences of modern culture but also that Darwin's theories were being used by believers in the popular eugenics movement to justify the sterilization of the "feebleminded." By 1925, Tennessee and several other southern and border states passed laws imposing this fundamentalist view on public education. When the American Civil Liberties Union announced that it would finance a test case challenging the law's constitutionality, John Scopes, a young biology instructor from Dayton, Tennessee, agreed to teach the theory that man had descended from other primates. The so-called Monkey Trial, which sought to decide Scopes's innocence or guilt and the constitutionality of the state statue, was overshadowed by the clash between traditional and modern values.

In July 1925, over five thousand spectators converged on Dayton, a town of 1,800 people nestled in the Cumberland Mountains. This trial soon took on a carnival atmosphere that included vendors selling Bibles, toy monkeys, hot dogs, and lemonade. Those who could not attend the trial in person could listen to it on the radio, for it was the first jury trial brought to the public by live radio broadcasts. At the trial, defense lawyer Clarence Darrow, an avowed agnostic, defended Scopes. The World Christian Fundamentalism Association hired Bryan, one of the greatest orators in American history, to assist the prosecution. Darrow's sole witness was Bryan, who agreed to provide expert testimony on the Bible.

From the perspective of the press, Darrow's crossexamination of Bryan was flawless, as the lawyer used the power of scientific reason to trump religious faith. Bryan, who believed in a literal interpretation the scriptures, testified that the world was created in six days; that Jonah had been swallowed by a whale; that Eve literally had been made from Adam's rib; and that in 2348 B.C., the world had been flooded, nearly destroying all living things except for the animals in Noah's ark. From the perspective of the twelve jurors, however, eleven of whom attended church on a regular basis, Bryan had truthfully spoken the word of God. To the surprise of none, the jury declared Scopes guilty and the judge fined him $100.

Significance

A year after the trial, the Tennessee Supreme Court, in Scopes v. State, overturned the decision on a technicality. Instead of sending the suit back to Dayton for retrial, the court dismissed the matter, concluding, "Nothing is to be gained by prolonging the life of this bizarre case." The Scopes trial was a victory for the forces of evolution. In 1925, fifteen states had anti-evolution legislation pending in their state legislatures, but only Mississippi and Arkansas enacted them. Moreover, evolution continued to be taught in Tennessee. The constitutional issues in Scopes went unaddressed until 1968, when the U.S. Supreme Court, in Epperson v. Arkansas, overturned a similar Arkansas law.

Primary Source: "Chapter No. 27, House Bill No. 185"

SYNOPSIS: On March 21, 1925, Tennessee governor Austin Peay signed H.B. No. 185 into law. The act prohibited all state public schools from teaching evolution. Schoolteachers who violated the law were guilty of a misdemeanor and fined between $100 to $500, a significant portion of the teacher's salary in the early twentieth century.

Public Acts of the State of Tennessee Passed by the Sixty-Fourth General Assembly, 1925

Chapter No. 27
House Bill No. 185
(By Mr. Butler)

An Act prohibiting the teaching of the Evolution Theory in all the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of Tennessee, which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, and to provide penalties for the violations thereof.

Section 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, 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.

Section 2. Be it further enacted, That any teacher found guilty of the violation of this Act, Shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction, shall be fined not less than One Hundred $ (100.00) Dollars nor more than Five Hundred ($ 500.00) Dollars for each offense.

Section 3. Be it further enacted, That this Act take effect from and after its passage, the public welfare requiring it.

Passed March 13, 1925

W. F. Barry,
Speaker of the House of Representatives
L. D. Hill,
Speaker of the Senate

Approved March 21, 1925.

Austin Peay,
Governor.

Primary Source: "Chapter No. 237, House Bill No. 48"

SYNOPSIS: In 1967, this Act was passed to repeal Tennessee's law forbidding the teaching of evolution in the schools.

Public Acts of the State of Tennessee Passed by the Eighty-Fifth General Assembly, 1967

Chapter No. 237
House Bill No. 48
(By Smith, Galbreath, Bradley)

Substituted for: Senate Bill No. 46
(By Elam)

An Act to repeal Section 498 - 1922, Tennessee Code Annotated, prohibiting the teaching of evolution.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee:

Section 1. Section 49 - 1922, Tennessee Code Annotated, is repealed.

Section 2. This Act shall take effect September 1, 1967.

Passed: May 13, 1967

James H. Cummings,
Speaker of the House of Representatives

Frank C. Gorrell,
Speaker of the Senate

Approved: May 17, 1967.

Buford Ellington,
Governor.

Further Resources

BOOKS

Blake. Arthur. The Scopes Trial; Defending the Right to Teach. Brookfield, Conn.: Millbrook Press, 1994.

Driemen, John Evans. Clarence Darrow. New York: Chelsea House, 1992.

Ipsen, D.C. Eye of the Whirlwind: The Story of John Scopes. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1973.

PERIODICALS

Lisby, Gregory C., and Linda L. Harris. "Georgia Reporters at the Scopes Trial: A Comparison of Newspaper Coverage." Georgia Historical Quarterly 75, 1991, 784–803.

Ragsdale, W.B. "Three Weeks in Dayton." American Heritage 26, 1975, 38–41, 99–103.

WEBSITES

CourtTV Online. "The Scopes Monkey Trial." Available online at http://www.courttv.com/greatesttrials/scopes/ (accessed January 28, 2003).

Linder, Douglas. "Famous Trials in American History: Tennessee vs. John Scopes: 'The Monkey Trial.'" Available online at http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/scopes/sco... ; website home page: http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/ftrials.htm (accessed January 28, 2003).