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1930s & Earlier / Scopes Trial 1925
One of the most famous trials in American history was the 1925 Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee. John T. Scopes, a young science teacher, was charged with violating the Butler Act, a state law that, in a roundabout way, prohibited the teaching of evolution in public schools. Scopes was quickly relegated to a minor character in the trial as the two lawyers took center stage. Civil libertarian groups hired famed defense lawyer Clarence Darrow (on the left) to represent Scopes. The prosecution obtained the services of former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan (right), a renowned creationist and famous orator. The highlight of the trial occurred when Darrow called Bryan to testify as an expert on the Bible. (The jury was out of the courtroom when Darrow cross-examined Bryan, and the entire exchange was expunged from the court record as the judge ruled it was irrelevant to whether or not Scopes had broken the law.) Scopes was eventually found guilty and fined $100. The conviction was later overturned on a technicality: the jury was supposed to establish the fine, not the judge. Actually, the trial should not have even occurred. Scopes was not at school on the day cited in the charge. The Butler Act remained on the books in Tennessee until 1976. The trial inspired the 1960 movie Inherit The Wind.