In March 1925, Tennessee passed a law that made teaching evolution a crime. The state legislature passed the law forbidding public schools to teach the theory taught by Darwin, that humans evolved from lower forms of life through evolution, rather than from a single omnipotent creator as suggested in the biblical book of Genesis. The American Civil Liberties Union was outraged this restriction and promised to defend any teacher who challenged the new law. John T. Scopes a football coach and substitute biology teacher from Dayton, was arrested for violating the law, after he had volunteered to serve as a test case for the ACLU by teaching evolution to his class. In his biology class, Scopes read several passages from Civic Biology a textbook banned by the legislature for its theories on evolution.
In July of that summer Scope's trial became a headline media event. The American Civil Liberties Union hired Clarence Darrow, one the most famous trial lawyer of the day, to defend Scopes. William Jennings Bryan, the former secretary of state, three-time presidential candidate, and strongly Presbyterian anti-evolutionist was hired to argued for prosecution. The Scope trail was not just a fight over evolution and the role of science and religion in public schools and in American society, but a fight for the sharing of new ideas. News of the trial brought crowds of protesters and reporters into the small town in overwhelming numbers. This trial with it's controversial popularity brought with it the first radio broadcast of a trial in history.
Almost overnight, the trail became a national sensation. The trial's climax occurred when Darrow's request for expert testimony from scientists was rejected and he decided instead to take Bryan onto the witness stand as an exper on religion and the bible. This was the contest that everyone had been waiting for. To handle the throngs of Bryan supporters, Judge Ralston moved the court outside to a platform built under a group of maple trees near the courthouse. Standing before a crowd of more than 2, 000, Darrow relentlessly questioned Bryan about his beliefs about the literal interpretation of the bible.
Bryan admitted that the Bible might be interpreted in different ways by different people. But in spite of this admission, Scope was found guilty and fined $100. Although Scope's was convicted, many modernists claimed victory. The testimony, they believed, had shown fundamentalism to be illogical. The Supreme Court later changed the verdict to a fine and lower Scope's fine to 50$ on a technicality, but the law outlawing the teaching of evolution was not addressed, and stayed on books long after the trial. The Scopes Trial had a great impact on the lives of the people in the 1920's.
One of these impact was that the trial had educating people on evolution and dispelled several myths. The peoples minds in the 1920's were now opening up to a new theories that dealt with the religious aspects that they had been held to for so long. The media, through radio and newspapers, expanded by this trial, was an important tool in giving the public more information on the topic of evolution and several other controversies and events of the 1920's. Another impact the Scope Trial was the decision of the state and local government came to, that science and religion were not compatible.
This case was not about the separation of religion and state, but about not mixing science and religion together. This clash over evolution was clear evidence of just one of the many changes and conflict occurring during the 1920's.