Setting the Stage: The Butler Law

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The Scopes 'Monkey Trial' - July 10, 1925 - July 25, 1925

Setting the Stage: The Butler Law

As America emerged from World War I, a collective nostalgia swept the country for the relative simplicity and "normalcy" of prewar society . In rural areas, particularly in the South and Midwest, Americans turned to their faith for comfort and stability, and fundamentalist religion soared in popularity. Fundamentalists, who believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible, locked into Darwin and the theory of evolution as "the most present threat to the truth they were sure they alone possessed" (1) . With evolution as the enemy, they set out to eradicate it from their society, beginning with the education system.

By 1925, states across the South had passed laws prohibiting the teaching of evolution in the classroom. Oklahoma, Florida and Mississippi had such laws, and narrow margins determined those in North Carolina and Kentucky. In Tennessee the Butler Law passed in early 1925, for although the governor was not a fundamentalist, many of his constituents were. As he said, "Nobody believes that it is going to be an active statute" (2) . No one that is, but the American Civil Liberties Union in New York, which was becoming increasingly more wary of what they saw as an infringement on their constitutional rights. With an eye on Tennessee, the ACLU set out to initiate a court case to test the constitutionality of the Butler Law.

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