i. Evolution in School
This country was founded on the principal of religious freedom. For most of our country’s history, Americans interpreted that rule to mean that they could worship God and the Bible as they pleased. So important was the right to religious freedom that the Founding Fathers took care to address it foremost in the Bill of Rights, as follows: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or the free exercise thereof….”[i] For years, however, religious “creationism” instruction was commonplace in public schools, and the idea that any other theory on the origin of man existed did not exist. This changed with Charles Darwin’s book “On Origin of Species,” which proposed that evolution may account for how people have come to be.
At first, this new theory made little headway into the public education systems across the country. However, as the theory persisted, states resisted by passing laws forbidding schools and teachers from teaching evolutionary theory in public schools.
An ACT prohibiting the teaching of the Evolution Theory in all the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of Tennessee, which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, and to provide penalties for the violations thereof.
Section 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.
Section 2. Be it further enacted, That any teacher found guilty of the violation of this Act, Shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction, shall be fined not less than One Hundred $ (100.00) Dollars nor more than Five Hundred ($ 500.00) Dollars for each offense.
Section 3. Be it further enacted, That this Act take effect from and after its passage, the public welfare requiring it.[ii]
This led to a challenge of the statute by way of high school coach and part-time biology teacher John Scopes, who had been teaching evolution in a state-approved text. He became the defendant in a challenge of the statute that went up to the Tennessee Supreme Court, where the statute was upheld but the decision reversed because the trial judge issued the fine, not the jury.[iii] Ultimately the case was dismissed, but the result of the trial was felt across the country, as only two of the fifteen states that were considering anti-evolution statutes passed them.
One of those two states was
In the present case, there can be no doubt that Arkansas has sought to prevent its teachers from discussing the theory of evolution because it is contrary to the belief of some that the Book of Genesis must be the exclusive source of doctrine as to the origin of man. No suggestion has been made that
Additionally, the Court stated:
It is of no moment whether the law is deemed to prohibit mention of
This ruling effectively established the theory of evolution as standard instruction in the public school systems of this country, and struck a blow against the instruction of Creationism in those same schools.