Events Leading Up To The Trial

In 1925 Tennessee passed the Butler Act that made it unlawful “to teach any theory that denies the story of divine creation as taught by the Bible and to teach instead that man was descended from a lower order of animals.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) objected to the law on the grounds that it violated a teacher's right to choose what was taught. The ACLU advertised in a number of newspapers that they would defend any teacher who would challenge this law in court. George Rappalyea, a businessman in Dayton Tennessee, convinced the town leaders that a trial challenging the Butler Act would be beneficial to their town. They chose John Scopes, a young high school teacher, to be the one who would serve as the defendant. John was not the regular biology teacher, but he admitted that he had once substituted for the regular teacher and had assigned a section of Hunter's Civic Biology, dealing with evolution, for the students to read. Scopes was absent the following day due to illness, and couldn't recall there ever being a discussion of the assigned material. However, he was willing to challenge the law. The town leaders had Scopes arrested and charged him with violating the Butler Act. The ACLU agreed to defend Scopes. William Jennings Bryan, a three time presidential candidate, was invited to join the prosecution team and gladly accepted. A group of civil libertarians were assembled to select the defense team. Over strong objections by the ACLU, the famed defense lawyer Clarence Darrow was chosen to be part of the defense team. The atmosphere in Dayton was almost like a circus. The town was anxious to cash in on all the publicity.