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2 Publicity and drama
Testing the Butler Act
At issue was the Butler Act, which had been passed a few months earlier. It said:
William Jennings Bryan, a fundamentalist preacher and three-time Presidential candidate for the United States Democratic Party, served on the prosecution team. The ACLU arranged for Clarence Darrow to defend Scopes pro bono; there were other lawyers on the defense team as well. The trial was covered by journalist H.L. Mencken for the Baltimore Sun, which was paying part of the defense's expenses. Bryan was opposed to the way evolution was taught because of its perceived disrespect for religion and promotion of eugenics.
The defense strategy was to have the charges thrown out on the grounds that laws forbidding the teaching of evolution were unconstitutional. They brought in a panoply of experts on evolution, who were not allowed to testify. Having failed in that, they essentially pled guilty so they could appeal to a higher court. Scopes never testified, as there was never a legal issue as to whether he had taught evolution. (There seems to have been some question about whether he really did ever teach evolution, but the point wasn't contested at trial.) The law itself was on trial.
After 8 days of trial, during which Darrow was charged with contempt but later apologized, Scopes was found guilty on July 21 and ordered to pay a $100 fine for defying the ban against teaching evolution. (The judgment was overturned on appeal due to a technicality.) Not until 1968 did the US Supreme Court rule in Epperson vs. Arkansas that such bans contravene the Establishment Clause because their primary purpose is religious.
The trial is described in detail in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Summer for the Gods, by Edward J. Larson (ISBN 0465075096); also useful is Ray Ginger's Six Days or Forever? (ISBN 0195197844). Another detailed resource is The Great Monkey Trial by L. Sprague de Camp.
Publicity and drama
The trial also brought publicity to the town of Dayton, Tennessee, leading some to speculate that it was a publicity stunt. From The Salem Republican, June 11, 1925: