News Item (from MSN August 2, 2006):
PETERSBURG, Ky. – Like most natural history museums, this one has exhibits showing dinosaurs roaming the earth. Except here, the giant reptiles share the forest with Adam and Eve.
That, of course, is contradicted by science, but that’s the point of the $25 million CreationMuseum rising fast in rural Kentucky.
Its inspiration is the Bible – the literal interpretation that contends God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them just a few thousand years ago
For those readers not familiar with the reference to the “1925” in this article’s title, please allow me to provide an explanation.
On March 13, 1925 the Tennessee Legislature passed House Bill 185 (also known as the “Butler Act) which began with the unambiguous statement
“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.” and concluded with the equally unambiguous: Be it further enacted, that this Act take effect from and after its passage, the public welfare requiring it.
In the small town of Dayton, TN a high school biology teacher named John Scopes agreed to be “arrested” and charged with violating the new law in order to test its constitutionality. The subsequent trial rapidly degenerated into what we now call “a media circus” after both the prosecution and the defense imported legal “hired guns” to bolster each side’s efforts.
For the prosecution this involved the services of William Jennings Bryan, a three-time Presidential candidate, Populist idol, and self-proclaimed Biblical authority. The noted newspaper columnist H.L. Mencken, who covered the trial, referred to Bryan as “a sort of Fundamentalist Pope.” Mencken’s impression was confirmed by the both the subsequent actions of the court and Bryan’s out of court antics.
The American Civil Liberties Union provided defense counsel in the person of Clarence Darrow, a labor lawyer who had moved from labor law to criminal law. Darrow’s belief in the rights of the individual over the power of the state won him few admirers among the arch-conservative citizenry of Dayton.
The trial itself opened inside a carnival-like atmosphere which surrounded the Rhea County courthouse, complete with performing chimps, food vendors, and fundamentalist ministers from around the country supplying daily updates regarding those that would “burn in Hell” due to their religious (or lack of) leanings. As the trial progressed the presiding judge repeatedly ruled in favor of the prosecution whenever Darrow would object to Bryan’s blatant introduction of religious dogma for benefit of the spectators rather than the business before the court. When Darrow’s witnesses for the defense, who would offer testimony regarding both evolution and geology, were barred from testifying Darrow called Bryan himself to the witness stand as an “authority” on the Bible. Needless to say, Bryan took the bait.
The examination of Bryan lasted for 2 hours during which Darrow’s questioning forced Bryan to backtrack on several key positions such as the length of a Biblical “day” and whether Jonah was literally “swallowed” by a “great fish.” In reality, the questioning amounted to nothing more than Darrow’s ridicule of Bryant’s beliefs, which Darrow planned to continue the following morning.
But that next morning the judge ruled that the testimony of Bryan was “immaterial” as to whether Scopes violated the Butler Act, ordered it removed from the court record, and that the trial should proceed.
The jury, of course found Scopes guilty and the judge imposed a fine of $100. The case was later overturned on appeal when the appellate court ruled that the jury, rather than the judge, should have imposed the fine. The prosecution declined to retry Scopes.
So what does this trial have to do with today’s headline? If you take a look around you’ll find efforts to coerce local school boards to mandate that “Creation Science” be taught in public schools, politicians boasting of their belief that the Bible is “the word of God and therefore literally true,” and those demanding that the Bible be read daily in the schools.
Yet the very same people that loudly proclaim their allegiance to the “separation of Church and State” seem to have no qualms at all about using the State to suppress anything resembling the profession of a religious faith. From objecting to the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance to demands that “In God We Trust” be removed from US currency, and the censoring of a high school graduate’s commencement remarks the “Separationists” seem just as obstinate as their foes.
As Rodney King asked, “Why can’t we all just get along?”