This month marks the 88th anniversary of the Scopes "Monkey" Trial, a famous legal case in 1925 in which a high school teacher, John Scopes, was accused of violating Tennessee's Butler Act, which made it unlawful to teach human evolution in any state-funded school.The trial was the subject of a 1960 movie Inherit the Wind. According to some accounts the movie was never intended to be an accurate portrayal of the events of the Scopes trial*. As this article shows, that was something of an understatement. The real Scopes trial was far different from the hazy image of Christianity versus science that is relentlessly promoted by popular culture.
A few important quotes from the article:
When the Butler Act, a law which forbade the teaching of evolution in Tennessee's public schools, caught the attention of the ACLU they sent out a press release stating that they wanted to challenge the act in court. Dayton resident George Rappelyea, who was both a church goer and an adherent of evolution theory, saw an opportunity to garner some attention for the small mining town. After consulting with several town leaders, Rappelyea sent a telegram to the ACLU notifying the organization that they would provide the test case.
Although John T. Scopes was the plaintiff in the famous trial, he was not the regular biology teacher but a football coach who only taught the subject as a substitute. When Rappelyea approached him about being the 'sacrificial lamb' Scopes hesitantly agreed to go along with the PR stunt. Local prosecutors — who were also in on the plan — swore out a warrant for Scopes who was arrested and immediately released on bail pending trial.
The biology book that was used by Scopes was George William Hunter's Civic Biology. Although a standard biology text, it included the author's championing of eugenics and white supremacy, his contempt for people with disabilities, and his dislike of charity for the "inferior."
* - Supposedly Inherit the Wind was really an attack on "McCarthyism", which was (and still is) another name for anti-communism. But that explanation is worse, given what we know about the horrors of communism and the debunked myth of a 1950s anti-communist witch hunt. An anti-anti-communist film would be just like an anti-anti-Nazi or anti-anti-KKK film: an attempt to implicitly rationalize an ugly and inhuman monstrosity. It would be better from a public relations point of view to view Inherit the Wind as botched history rather than a defense of mass murder.