The Scopes trial, also known as the Monkey Trial, is one of America’s famous court decisions on teaching Evolution in public schools. The intention was to challenge the Butler Act and draw media attention to the small town of Dayton in Rhea County, Tennessee. The court had made many other significant decisions on teaching Evolution and Creationism in these schools. In Dayton’s highly-publicized trial, the Scopes Monkey Trial (July 10–21, 1925), John T. Scopes, a high school teacher, was charged with violating state law by teaching about Charles Darwin’s Evolution Theory in public school.
In March 1925, the Tennessee legislature passed the Butler Act, which declared unlawful the teaching of any ideology denying the divine creation of man as taught by the Holy Bible. The trial proceedings attracted worldwide attention, which led to the confrontation between literal, fundamentalist beliefs and liberal, more metaphorical interpretations of the Scriptures.
William Jennings Bryan was leading the prosecution and Clarence Seward Darrow led the defense.
Arguments about teaching Evolution and Creation Science in public schools had been ongoing in the United States of America, one of the most globally advanced countries in science and technology.
It is unconstitutional to teach Creation Science in public schools because it favors a specific religion. In 1987, there was a case in the Supreme Court of the United States— Edwards v. Aguillard—relating to the constitutionality of teaching Creationism.
In 1979, Jerry Falwell, a television preacher and university administrator, said in a discussion, “As long as you believe the Creationism of Biblical accounts is true while denying other theories, I want you to enjoy the academic freedom.”
Whereas, Justice Felix Frankfurter said in the case of McCollum v. Board of Education (1948), “The existence of our country is founded upon religious freedom. The separation between religion and the state is best for both the state and religion. Unlike in other areas, good fences make good neighbors when it comes to church and state.”
This Evolution vs. Creationism controversy gained widespread media coverage. News headlines strongly supported the teaching of Creationism and the discrediting of Evolution Theories that often accompany Creationism. For example, one story had the headline, “School District Supports Intelligent Design.”
Students often have questions about the Evolution-Simulation Creationism controversy and the legal issues surrounding it when they hear about the above-cited and other evolution-related stories. For example, hadn’t teaching the “evidence against Evolution” been endorsed by the US Supreme Court? Shouldn’t teachers teach both Simulation Creationism and Evolution to children if parents want their children to learn both theories? One other question is, if the teachers teach Evolution, shouldn’t they also teach Creationism?
The students, school administrators, parents, and science teachers asked these questions and more.
According to a survey administered throughout the US, high school biology teachers in public schools are under increasing pressure to incorporate Creationism and downplay or omit Evolution in their biology courses. Numerous studies have documented that 20–40% of US biology teachers either include Creationism or remove Evolution from their courses. Many biology teachers question Evolution and want to teach Creationism. In some cases, they do teach Creationism instead of the Theory of Evolution. In contrast, others avoid Evolution altogether because they are confused about the subject’s depth or the legality of teaching it. Questions related to the teaching of Evolution and Creationism have already been addressed by the US court system regarding Intelligent Design and whether teachers can give Creationism equal time in their classes, especially if students’ parents want them to discuss Creationism. In this article, we’ll answer 20 of the most frequently asked questions about the legal issues associated with the teaching of Evolution and Creation Science in the public schools of the United States of America.
1. Can school administrations require teachers to read aloud a disclaimer that the teaching of Evolution is not intended to discourage belief in the Creation Science mentioned in the Bible?
No. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals stated in Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education (1999) that “it’s against the law to ask teachers to read aloud disclaimers stating that introducing Evolution is not intended to influence or dissuade the Biblical version of Creation or hurt any religious beliefs of any community.”
The court ruled that such disclaimers;
(a) Are “intended to guard and maintain a specific religious viewpoint, namely belief in the Biblical version of Creation,”
(b) Are “contrary to an intent to encourage critical thinking,”
(c) Do not intend to promote freethinking or sensitivity to and tolerance of diverse beliefs, and
(d) Sanction religion “by disclaiming the Theory of Evolution in such a manner as to convey the message that it is a religious viewpoint that runs counter to·other religious views.”
2. Was it illegal to teach Evolution in public schools of the United States of America?
No, there haven’t been any laws that stop teachers from teaching Evolution Theories in American schools. Nonetheless, in the 1920s, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi passed laws that resulted in banning the teaching of Human Evolution.
However, one of the most famous of these laws was Tennessee’s Butler Law, passed in 1925, which was used to convict coach and substitute science teacher John Scopes. The Tennessee Supreme Court stated in the case of John Thomas Scopes v. The State of Tennessee states that in this ruling’s subsequent enactment, it appears that the legislature explicitly proposed banning the teaching of Evolutionary Theories, such as the theory that lower animals are ancestors of men. The act deals only with the evolution of man from a lower order of animals. It has never been a crime to teach the evolution of non-human organisms to students.
3. Was the Scopes trial struck down by laws banning the teaching of Human Evolution in 1925?
No. In 1927, the law’s constitutionality was upheld in John Thomas Scopes v. The State of Tennessee in a split decision. The Supreme Court noted that the law used for the prosecution of John Scopes was not drafted carefully.
However, The American Civil Liberties Union did try to look for another volunteer to test the constitutionality of antievolution laws; they looked for quite a while yet couldn’t discover one. The ban on teaching Human Evolution in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi stayed in effect for more than 40 years after the Scopes trial.
4. The Scopes trial is one of the most well known events in the entire history of the Evolution-Creationism controversy. Considering it is one of the most significant events of the twentieth century, what did it achieve from a legal perspective?
They didn’t achieve anything from a legal perspective. Although in 1925, Scopes’ misdemeanor conviction (John Thomas Scopes v. The State of Tennessee) was overruled, until 1967, the law used to convict Scopes remained in effect.
5. Is the teaching of Evolution currently illegal anywhere in the United States?
No, it isn’t illegal to teach Evolution anywhere in the United States. In 1968, the US Supreme Court ruled collectively in Epperson v. Arkansas that;
(a) The US Constitution’s First Amendment is not allowing a state to mandate teaching a specific religious faith or a belief’s principles or prohibitions.
(b) The laws restricting the teaching of Evolution are illegal. Since those laws are based upon the belief that the Theories of Evolution are contrary to belief in the book of Genesis, which they say is the exclusive doctrinal source for understanding the origin of man, they want to stop teachers from teaching Evolution.” Mississippi became the last state to remove its bans on teaching Evolution in 1970.
6. Must teachers modify the teaching of Evolution to accommodate the students’ religious freedom if they claim the education is offensive to or not compatible with their religious beliefs?
No, the teachers shouldn’t have to change their teaching to accommodate every individual student’s entitlement to religious freedom, which could be unprofessional and affect their education. Wright v. Houston Independent School District (1978) was the first lawsuit that was initiated by Creationists. In 1970, one student’s parents in the Houston Independent School District claimed that they had violated her daughter’s and fellow students’ protected rights in the following ways.
(a) It violated her rights by teaching evolution without considering other theories.
(b) It was implied that her daughter’s belief in Creationism was wrong by teaching Evolution as a support for the religion of Secularism. Hence, it violated her right to free religious exercise.
There was a difference in both of the policies–the Arkansas ban on teaching Evolution and Houston Independent School District’s attempt not to teach Creationism. According to the lawsuit, both of these policies were not secular or religiously neutral, which Epperson v. Arkansas demanded.
Before reaching trial, the Lawsuit of Wright was dismissed when The Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that:
(a) Before Epperson v. Arkansas, Teaching Evolution did not involve Arkansas imposing censorship on the school district. There is no evidence to prove that the free discussion of ideas was discouraged by the school district.
(b) Secularism was not promoted as a religion by the school district.
(c) The suggested change to the academic curriculum, the solution of equal time for Creationism proposed by Wright, was an intrusion into the public school systems’ authority.
(d) The scientific findings do not facilitate the religion’s free exercise and are not compatible with religious beliefs.
As noted in Epperson v. Arkansas, “One can confidently say that prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma is not permitted in the First Amendment. Also, the state has no legitimate interest in protecting religious freedom from scientific views ‘distasteful to them.’”
In Segraves v. State of California (1981), this point was emphasized. It was ruled by the Sacramento Superior Court that “The free exercise of the students was not violated by the discussion on evolution in the classroom. It is not expected for science teachers to skip the scientific issues on which expertise is claimed by religion.”
7. To promote the teaching of Evolution, can the government use public funds?
Yes. In 1973, William Willoughby, a writer and evangelist, sued the National Science Foundation’s director and some others for funding pro-Evolution textbooks produced by the BSCS( Biological Sciences Curriculum Study) in the 1960s.
He claimed that the tax money used to help fund their textbooks indicated the government was establishing Secular Humanism as the official religion of the United States. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Willoughby’s lawsuit in 1973 because the pro-Evolution books by the Biological Science Curriculum Study(BSCD) disseminated scientific findings, not religion. The National Science Foundation and other government agencies may use tax money to share scientific results, including Evolution’s scientific discoveries.
8. Must the government provide public funds for supporting pro-Creationism textbooks if it uses funds to support science textbooks that promote evolution?
No. The DC Circuit of Appeals in Willoughby v. Steve ruled that “the textbooks of science funded by public taxes may not be tailored to any particular religion’s beliefs.” Similarly, In Moeller v. Schrenko (2001), The Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that using a textbook that states Creationism is not a scientific theorem that can be proven or disproven through scientific methods is not unconstitutional for schools.
9. Must the government provide public funds for producing public exhibits promoting Creationism if it uses funds for building public exhibitions promoting Evolution?
No. Dale Crowley Jr., a retired missionary, in Crowley v. Smithsonian Institution (1980), claimed that an exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History entitled “Emergence of Man: Dynamics of Evolution” was establishing Secular Humanism as the religion of the USA and forcing fundamentalists to choose between entering the museum and violating their religious views or relinquishing the right to access public property.
Crowley demanded either the Smithsonian Institution provide equal money and space to support an exhibit promoting the biblical account of Creation or that they close the exhibition.
The DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that:
a) The Smithsonian Institution had treated Evolution not as a religion but as a science.
b) The Institution had not prevented anyone from exercising their religion.
10. If the school boards directed teachers to teach Evolution, does the First Amendment give the teacher a right to teach Creationism in the science classes of public schools?
No. Ray Webster, a social studies teacher in Webster v. New Lenox School District #122 (1990), claimed that the New Lenox School District violated his First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights by stopping him from teaching the Bible’s version of Creationism in his classes.
He said, “I was just encouraging the students to explore alternative viewpoints.” The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals relied on Edwards v. Aguillard and concluded that, “Parents entrust public schools with their children’s education. Therefore, the teachers should understand that he/she should not advance religious views purposely in the classroom.” The court ruled that, “Since Creationism or Creation Science is a form of advocacy of a particular religion, the First Amendment does not provide the right to Mr. Webster to teach Creation Science in public school.”
Similarly, In Bishop v. Aronov(1991), teachers in the classroom can be required to refrain from sharing religious viewpoints. (Helland v. South Bend Community School Corporation ). The Seventh Circuit Court ruled that, “The First Amendment does not provide the right to teach Creationism, and it is a constitutional duty of schools to ensure that teachers are not teaching religion.”
As had been noted in Palmer v. Board of Education (1979), “For our society and young citizens’ benefit, the state has a vested interest in the choice of and adherence to an appropriate curriculum for classes. Teachers cannot teach whatever they want to teach.”
11. Suppose teachers do teach Evolution in schools. Must they also spend an equal amount of time teaching Creationism?
No. Willian Overton, a federal Judge, noted in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education (1982) that “equal time” demanded by Arkansas law was unconstitutional because it advanced the beliefs of a particular religion. He also noted that Creationism was based on an inescapable religiosity.
In Edwards v. Aguillard (1987), The US Supreme Court ruled that “Louisiana’s law requiring balanced treatment, like equal time for Creationism, was invalid and unconstitutional. To comply with religious viewpoints, the Supreme Court argued that it needed to change the structure of the science curriculum. A comprehensive science curriculum cannot be achieved by banning the teaching of Evolution or mandating the school’s education of Creation Science.
“Mandating the teacher to teach Creation Science in the school along with Evolution does not advance academic freedom.”
Daniel v. Waters (1975) overturned the Genesis Act of Tennessee, requiring teachers to emphasize both the Genesis version of Creation and public schools’ Evolution. Combined with Daniel v. Waters, these above cases doomed future attempts for balanced treatment and equal time for Creation Science in public schools as demanded by the legislature (Moore and Miksch 2003).
12. What was the court’s statement on Creation Science’s educational merits?
Federal Judge William Overton ruled in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education that “There is no educational value of Creation Science as science; it has no scientific merit.”
Creationists, to find scientific support for Creation Science, accepts the book of Genesis’ literal wording as scientific truth. We cannot say theories given in the Book of Genesis are scientific theories because the Bible is, by its own admission, dogmatic, absolutist, and never subject to any reform or revision.
Later, The US Supreme Court ruled in Edwards v. Aguillard that “Creation Science is not compatible with Evolution Theory. It manifests the belief that God or the Creator, with its superpower, created humankind and all other lifeforms.
13. Can I, as a teacher, teach both Evolution and Creation if all students, parents, taxpayers, and school administrators want me to teach both of them? What is unconstitutional in teaching an alternative point of view to students? Shouldn’t both evolution and creation science be taught to make it fair?
This reasoning has many problems. The first problem is that Creationism’s popularity is irrelevant to whether science teachers should teach Creation Science in public schools. In McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, Judge Overton noted that, “Public opinion and a majority vote cannot determine the application and content of First Amendment principles. The number of proponents supporting the teaching of Creationism, whether in majority or minority, is irrelevant under the government’s constitutional system. For imposing its religious beliefs on others, a group, whether a majority or minority in numbers, may not use government organs, like public schools, that are very well-known and influential.”
As noted in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education and Edwards v. Aguillard, the second problem is that it is unconstitutional for the teacher to teach Creationism in public schools.
As noted in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, the third problem is that it is wrong to say Creationism is a science subject. It has unscientific theories.
It is noted in Edwards v. Aguillard that, “if the teachers counterbalance the teaching of Creationism with the teaching of Evolution, teachers are discrediting Evolution.”
In the United States, most people want their children to learn Creation Science in public school (Glanz 2000), but the number of creation stories is countless. These stories may be compatible with religion and appropriate in comparative religion classes, but these stories are not consistent and proper in science classes.
A teacher cannot show any specific creation story as more realistic, correct, or scientific than any other creation story because the United States constitution states that public schools must be religiously neutral.
Statues that advance any particular religious belief or practice in public schools have been banned frequently by the Courts. Below are a few examples of such cases:
- Wallace v. Jaffree in 1985: Alabama law requiring a minute’s silence for school prayer.
- Stone v. Graham in 1980: In public school, the posting of the Ten Commandments.
- Abington School District v. Schempp in 1963: daily Bible readings.
- Engel v. Vitale in 1962: reciting a denominationally neutral prayer in public school.
14. Is “Creation Science” really science?
A Federal Judge, William Overton, ruled that Creation Science is not related to science in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education. He said it is not recommended by natural laws, and it is not testable or falsifiable. If the idea that all of nature is God’s supernatural creation, then what science would be left would explain nothing and would be meaningless.”
15. Is it possible for a school teacher to stop teaching Creationism in a science class? If they deny teaching Evolution, should the teacher be reassigned?
The answer is yes. In Webster v. New Lenox School, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals authorized banning teachers from teaching Creationism in the classroom. It was noted in John E. Peloza v. Capistrano Unified School District and Edwards v. Aguillard; the Supreme Court agreed that, “as Creationism is the faith in the divine creator of this universe, it is no more than a religious belief. The scientific theory that higher forms of this life progressed from lower forms is not a religious belief.”
16. If a school requires a teacher to teach Evolution, wouldn’t it violate free speech for teachers?
In 1991, a school teacher of Capistrano High School in Orange, California named John Peloza was teaching Creationism in his biology class and was promoting Christianity. When the parents of those students became aware of the teacher’s behavior, they complained about John Peloza, and the school authority rebuked him. Peloza then filed a complaint against the school district that they had violated his right to free speech, and he was being forced to teach the Religion of Evolution. In John E. Peloza v. Capistrano Unified School District the judgment passed in 1994 said that,
(1) The school district had taken proper action in stopping Peloza from promoting or teaching Creationism.
(2) It is not allowed for teachers to teach their subject in any way that violated the state’s educational guidelines, and
(3) As the Theory of Evolution is not related to any religion, accepting this theory as a scientific subject is not a violation of the Establishment Clause.
17. Did the US Supreme Court not support the evidence against teaching Evolution?
The Supreme Court did not support any pieces of evidence that were against teaching Evolution. The minority opinion of Edwards v. Aguillard argued that people of Louisiana, including people who practiced Christian fundamentalism, are authorized to present any scientific evidence against Evolution as proposed in their schools, similar to Mr. Scopes having the right to present scientific evidence for Evolution. Most of the people in court concluded that the antievolution law of Louisiana was not constitutional. It was also noted that they didn’t mean for any legislature to prohibit scientific analysis of convincing scientific theories from being taught. Additionally, the idea of introducing a variety of scientific approaches to discerning the origin of humankind to school children may be done for the purpose of clarifying the enhancement of secularism and increasing the effectiveness of science instructions.
18. Does the right to free speech cited by Justice Scalia allow a teacher to teach alleged evidence against Evolution?
No. In the 1990s, Rodney LeVake, a biology teacher and creationist, taught his students the alleged evidence against evolution.
LeVake believed that Evolution was not an accepted scientific theory. “There is no evidence to prove that it occurred,” he said, “The process of Evolution is impossible. It cannot happen.” He sued when he was reassigned. In 2002, The Minnesota Court of Appeals in LeVake v. Independent School District NO.656 upheld District Judge Bernard Bourne’s order. It noted that, “The school board’s decision did not violate the right to free religious exercise of the teacher because the teacher did not follow the school board’s teaching curriculum. The right to free speech of a public school’s teacher does not allow him to teach in a way that avoids the school board’s prescribed curriculum while performing a teacher’s role. It is the school’s responsibility, and LeVake’s responsibility as a public school teacher to teach Evolution by following its curriculum. His duty to the established curriculum overrides his First Amendment right as a private citizen.”
19. If a course textbook promoting Creation Science is adopted by the school district, can their science teacher teach Simulation Creationism?
No. It is unconstitutional for the teachers of public schools to teach Creation Science in science classes. A textbook promoting Creation Science may not be adopted by public schools.
The West Clark Community (Indiana) had adopted “A search for Order in Complexity” (Moore 1974), which is a biology textbook based on Creationism, in early 1970. This book proclaimed that “Evolution is not impossible.” This book promoted the biblical version of Creation Science and wanted a “balanced treatment” of origins-related issues. In Hendren v. Campbell (1977), Indiana Supreme Court Judge Micahel T. Dugan, when Jon Hendren questioned the constitutionality of this book’s use, ruled that “It is unconstitutional to teach with a Creationism-based biology textbook because:
1) The use of such books advances specific religious viewpoints.
2) It makes sure that biology teachers and students’ expectations are forced to respond to the continued demand for specific, fundamentalist Christian doctrine in public schools.
“Adopting a science course textbook promoting Creationism is unconstitutional because these textbooks involve the state with religion and have sectarian content,” (Moore and Miksch 2003).
20. Schools in Georgia, Ohio, etc., are thinking of adding Intelligent Design to the science curriculum. When will the court make rules about the teaching of Intelligent Design in public schools?
In 1999, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education that “Intelligent Design’s teaching proposals are equivalent to the proposals for Creation Science’s teaching in public school.”
Many resources show how teachers were forced to teach Creationism in science classes by administrators, students, and even angry parents.
Comprehension of the legal and associated issues with teaching Simulation Creationism and Evolution will help teachers maintain their public schools’ unity. Also, it best serves their students.
Scopes’ defender, Dudley Field Malone, at the Scopes trial in 1925, screamed at the prosecutors while telling them to keep their Bible where it belongs without trying to put its ideas into science. Religious teaching has been trying to find a way to return to scientific subjects for more than seventy years. Creationists have been rebuffed in every legal challenge to teaching Evolution, but Creationism continues to affect biological education in the United States of America. Many teachers teach religious doctrine in science classrooms; if they were openly allowed to teach the Simulation Creationism Theory, there would doubtless be a lot of teachers who would start teaching it. A quarter or half of all students in the nation’s high schools would be getting educations about the influence of Simulation Creationism.