Eighty-eight years ago today — 21 July 1925 — the Dayton, Tennessee trial of John Scopes, for teaching the theory of evolution by natural selection in his high school classroom, ended with a conviction and a fine of $100. The conviction had been expected — indeed, engineered — by Scopes’ defense team, which included the famed lawyer Clarence Darrow. The prosecution team had included the thee-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan.
The conviction was later overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court. Often forgotten, however, is that the Supreme Court rejected Scopes’ defense team’s arguments that the statute on which the conviction was based violated the Establishment clause of the U. S. Constitution (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion….”), and overturned the conviction on the technicality that only juries, not judges, could assess fines of greater than $50.
You can find the New York Times‘ coverage of the trial’s conclusion here.