Religion and Public Life: Seventy Years
After the Scopes Trial
In the spring of 1925, John Thomas Scopes, a young high school teacher in Dayton,
Tennessee, was indicted and tried for violating the Butler Act. William Jennings
Bryan served as prosecutor; famed Chicago lawyer Clarence Darrow, acting on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, was the attorney for the defense. In
a case that attracted international attention, Scopes was convicted of violating
the anti-evolution legislation.
As a major research university in Tennessee, Vanderbilt was not immune to the repercussions of the Scopes trial. In the fall of 1925, Vanderbilt Chancellor James H. Kirkland reacted to the Scopes trial in his address marking the university's semicentennial:
The answer to the episode at Dayton is the building of new laboratories on the Vanderbilt campus for the teaching of science. The remedy for a narrow sectarianism and a belligerent fundamentalism is the establishment on the campus of a School of Religion, illustrating in its methods and its organization the strength of a common faith and the glory of a universal worship.
Others at Vanderbilt University reacted defensively to the critical publicity
surrounding the state's anti-evolution legislation. The negative portrayal of
southerners as backward thinking and bigoted, most notably by H. L. Mencken, for
example, prompted Fugitive writers Alan Tate, John Crowe Ransom, and Donald
Davidson to defend staunchly the "southern way of life." Their collective
response to the anti-southern sentiment of the 1920s, which the Scopes trial had
helped to foster, culminated with the Fugitive conference that resulted in the
publication of I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition in 1930.
In order to understand the changes that have taken place in the subsequent
seventy years and the continuing interplay between religion, science, education,
and public life, the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities is hosting a
symposium on November 2-3, 1995, entitled "Religion and Public Life: Seventy
Years after the Scopes Trial." The following is a schedule of the symposium and
its events. For further information, contact the Robert Penn Warren Center for
the Humanities at Vanderbilt University. Support for the symposium is being
provided by the Dean's Office of the College of Arts and Science, the Divinity
School, the First Amendment Center, Project Dialogue, the Southern Studies
Program, the University Chaplain's Office, and ACLU-TN.
John Egerton will introduce the
film Inherit the Wind, which will be shown at Sarratt Cinema at 7:30 p.m.
Panel members will present papers establishing the historical context of the
Scopes trial and its implications for the relationship between religion and
public life. The panelists include:
The second panel will consider contemporary issues involving the interplay of
science and religion. Panelists include:
The panelists will respond to the ideas presented in the previous panels and
will consider the future implications of current debates concerning science and
religion and their broad implications for religion and public life. Panelists
for the session are:
A workshop will be held with interdisciplinary teams of teachers. Teachers from
Davidson County will apply to participate in this workshop and will attend all
conference sessions. Chairing the Saturday workshop and small group discussions
AN ACT prohibiting the teaching of the Evolutionary 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 I. 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.
Passed March I3, I925
For more information, contact the Center's executive director, Mona C. Frederick.
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