The Scopes “Monkey” Trial 1925
The Tennessee state legislature enacted a measure in March 1925 prohibiting the teaching of evolution in all educational institutions in the state.
The Butler Act sounded the alarm across the country. The ACLU promptly offered to represent any teacher facing charges under the law. John Scopes, a famous high school science teacher, agreed to be the defendant in a law-challenge test case. On May 7, 1925, he was arrested and charged with teaching evolution theory. The defense was led by Clarence Darrow, a highly capable, experienced, and nationally recognized criminal defense attorney, and Arthur Garfield Hays, the ACLU’s General Counsel. They argued that the Tennessee statute was unconstitutional because it made a religious document, the Bible, the standard of truth in a government institution. William Jennings Bryan, a former Secretary of State, presidential contender, and the most well-known conservative Christian advocate in the country, headed the prosecution. His technique was straightforward: he needed to show that John Scopes had broken Tennessee law.