21 July 1925

Scopes Trial: In Dayton, Tennessee, high school biology teacher John T. Scopes is found guilty of teaching human evolution in class and fined $100.

The Scopes Trial, also known as the Scopes Monkey Trial, was a famous legal case that took place in 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee, United States. It centered around the issue of teaching evolution in public schools, particularly the theory of evolution put forth by Charles Darwin.

The case was triggered when the Tennessee state legislature passed the Butler Act, which made it illegal to teach any theory denying the biblical account of human creation. Essentially, it prohibited the teaching of evolution in public schools. John T. Scopes, a young high school teacher, agreed to challenge the law deliberately to test its constitutionality and was accused of teaching evolution in violation of the Butler Act.

The trial garnered significant attention and became a highly publicized and contentious event, with major figures from both sides of the argument involved. The prosecution was led by William Jennings Bryan, a prominent politician and fundamentalist Christian who advocated for the literal interpretation of the Bible’s creation story. The defense team was headed by Clarence Darrow, a renowned lawyer and civil liberties advocate who supported the teaching of evolution and the freedom of speech.

During the trial, the central issue was not whether Scopes had actually taught evolution in the classroom (he admitted doing so), but whether the Butler Act itself was constitutional and whether Scopes could be prosecuted under it. The trial brought attention to the clash between religious beliefs and the emerging scientific understanding of human origins.

In the end, John Scopes was found guilty and fined, but the verdict was later overturned on a technicality. Despite the legal victory for the prosecution, the trial highlighted the growing tension between modern scientific ideas and traditional religious beliefs in the United States. The Scopes Trial is often seen as a symbolic turning point in the debate over the role of science and religion in American education and society.