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John Scope Monkey Trial

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The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) were already aware that the Act was likely to become law because it had been passed by the lower house of the Tennessee legislature by a landslide (in January, 1925). After a few false starts, the ACLU sent a press release to several Tennessee newspapers, such as the Chattanooga Daily Times, announcing that they would provide legal assistance, etc. for a school teacher in Tennessee who would be willing to stand trial for having taught evolution in a public school so that a test case could be mounted to challenge the constitutional validity of the Act.

Encouraged by George Rappelyea, (a mining engineer who managed six local coal and iron mines owned by the Cumberland Coal Company), a group of leading citizens in the small town of Dayton* - the "drug store conspirators" - decided to accept the ACLU's offer, in the hope that the publicity surrounding the trial would help to reverse the town's declining fortunes. On May 4th the group recruited John Scopes, football coach and occasional stand-in teacher at Rhea County High School as the subject for the test case, on the basis that he had taught from the section on evolution in Hunter's A Civic Biology - the State-approved textbook.

(* Dayton is situated in the valley between the Cumberland Plateau and the Appalachian Mountains. It is just a few miles West of a line from Chattanooga (36 miles to the Sou' Sou' West) to Knoxville (79 miles to the North East).)

Rappelyea sent a telegram to the ACLU's New York office. The ACLU replied promptly, accepting his proposal. Scopes was charged on May 7th with having taught evolution on April 24th, 1925. A preliminary hearing on May 10th bound him over pending a specially convened Grand Jury hearing on May 25th. The membersof the Grand Jury, who are well aware of the true purpose of the charge against Scopes, handed down an indictment and Scopes was instructed to present himself at the Rhea County court house for trial on the morning of July 10th.

At no time was Scopes held in jail on this charge which, by the way, was only classed as a "misdemeanor", not a "crime."

The Overture

On hearing about the trial, from the leaders of the WFCA (World's Christian Fundamentals Association), on May 12th William Jennings Bryan volunteered his services to the prosecution. By the end of that week Clarence Darrow had contacted Scopes with an offer to appear pro bono for the defense. Darrow became the leading defense counsel, but Bryan was only one of several assistant prosecutors under the leadership of Tom Stewart (Attorney General for the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit).

Act 1 - The Trial

The trial ran for 8 days (plus two weekends), from July 10th - July 21st, inclusive, and it certainly brought Dayton the publicity the "drug store conspirators had hoped for. At least 200 reporters, from all over the world, covered the trial; and thanks to station WGN, Chicago, the entire trial was broadcast over nationwide radio.

The defense team had the services of eight "expert witnesses", though only one of them actually made it to the witness stand - Dr Maynard Metcalf. Thereafter Judge Raulston ruled that none of the expert testimony could be presented to the jury, since it was not relevant to the simple question: "Did Scopes teach that humans had evolved from a lower life form or not?" He did, however, agree to having the testimony entered into the trial record so that it would be taken into account if the case went to appeal.

All eight experts submitted their testimony in the form of affidavits, apparently in order to avoid cross examination.

(See Part 6: The Expert Testimony for a comparison between some key points in the expert testimony and modern views on evolution.)

Of the eight days of the trial, much of which was taken up with legal arguments, the jury were only present in court for a matter of hours. They did not, for example, hear the only evidence from a defense witness delivered in person - from Dr. Maynard Metcalf's; they did not hear any of the expert testimony which was read into the record on the morning of Day 7; and contrary to the depiction in Inherit the Wind, they did not hear one word of the confrontation between Bryan and Darrow on the afternoon of Day 7. (For a detailed evaluation of Darrow's questioning of Bryan see Bryan and Darrow.)

On Day 8, though he had previously agreed that Bryan might question Darrow, Malone and Hays, Judge Raulston ruled that the precedings of the previous afternoon had been irrelevant to the trial and should be struck from the record. This in turn put paid to any possibility of the

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