March 21st 1925: Butler Act passed
On this day in 1925, the Butler Act was signed into law by Tennessee Governor Austin Peay. The bill was introduced by farmer John Butler of the Tennessee House of Representatives on January 21st and was immediately controversial. It banned school teachers from teaching evolution, and instead provided for the teaching of the Christian theory of creationism. Teachers who violated the law were to be fined a maximum of $500. Many protested that the law violated the 1st Amendment’s ban on the establishment of religion and its provision of free speech. The Butler Act has become infamous in history due to its challenge in the so-called ‘Scopes Monkey Trial’. The trial was prompted by the arrest of science teacher John Scopes, and drew the attention of the nation as it essentially put the theory of evolution on trial. The lawyers for the case were famed in their fields - Clarence Darrow for the defense and William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution. Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution but his conviction was reversed on a technicality. The Butler Act was not repealed until 1967.
"I never had any idea my bill would make a fuss. I just thought it would become a law, and that everybody would abide by it and that we wouldn’t hear any more of evolution in Tennessee"
- John Butler during the Scopes trial