Sunday, May 26, 2013

What would John do?

Today, in 1925 the John above was indicted.  His case used to be, for me, the very definition of losing the battle but winning the war.  Lately though I am not so sure about the win.

I am talking about the Scopes Monkey Trial.  The gist was the state of Tennessee had made it illegal to discuss evolution in any publicly funded classroom.  If this is sounding a bit samey, that might be because Tennessee has more recently made it illegal to discuss homosexuality in elementary & middle school (apparently by high school the kids can handle it).

You don't need me to walk you through the ins&outs of the trial itself.  The highlights are:

John Scopes was a high school teacher who was aware of the law (the Bulter Act to be precise) & may not have even violated it but had said he thought it was a bad law & agreed to violate it.

He was defended by Clarence Darrow who came in the door with a...let's call it background.  A whole lot of other famous people passed in & out of that courtroom, but I will spare you the list of attorneys at either table.

The trial was a good old fashioned circus & was intended by both sides to be just that.  One side wanted that law struck down & the drafters ridiculed, the other side thought it was about damn time someone took a stand against this anti-bible science nonsense.  At least that is how I remember it.  The ACLU had been looking for a "test case" & this one was tailor made. 

The whole business was famously covered by H. L. Mencken & if you don't know who that is look him up.  If you don't want to look him up, imagine a 24-hour news cycle hairdo who spends her/his spare time translating Nietzsche, writing books on ethics & generally contributing to our society more than his own short-term bank balance.  Yes, I am talking about you Hairdo who spent actual news bytes promoting your country music album.

John Scopes lost & was ordered to pay the fine ($100), went on to the Tennessee Supreme Court where the conviction was overturned (the technicality:  the jury should have decided the fine, not the judge) but the law stood.  Until 1967 when it was repealed more or less just in time as the US Supreme Court ruled the following year that a ban on speech based entirely on religion was indeed a violation of the First Amendment.

But all of that was yet to come, in the past.  Today we celebrate the day John Scopes was indicted.  Picture your high school science teacher.  He has been taken out of his house & down to the station & is being booked.  He is about to lose his livelihood & ultimately will choose to live in another country on another continent.  But today, he thought it was still important enough to move a specific religious doctrine out of the classroom & open the door to alternative.

1 comment:

  1. The trial gave me one of my all time favorite sentences:

    I don't think about things I don't think about.