Individual Liberty Versus Majoritarian Democracy in Edward Larson’s Summer For the Gods

878 Words 4 Pages
Individual Liberty Versus Majoritarian Democracy in Edward Larson’s Summer For the Gods

The Scopes trial, writes Edward Larson, to most Americans embodies “the timeless debate over science and religion.” (265) Written by historians, judges, and playwrights, the history of the Scopes trial has caused Americans to perceive “the relationship between science and religion in . . . simple terms: either Darwin or the Bible was true.” (265) The road to the trial began when Tennessee passed the Butler Act in 1925 banning the teaching of evolution in secondary schools. It was only a matter of time before a young biology teacher, John T. Scopes, prompted by the ACLU tested the law. Spectators and newspapermen came from allover to witness
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Through exploring Bryan, Larson exposes the majoritarian democratic ideology underlying the veneer of religion that has since characterized the trial

Next Larson explores the role the ACLU played in the Scopes Trial. They saw the Scopes trial as a means to advance the rights of laborers and academic freedom using the First Amendment. Clarence Darrow, when he heard that William Jennings Bryan would be prosecuting the trial, eagerly joined the ACLU defense team. Darrow claimed that he was fighting for individual rights but he was also obsessed in his determination to overturn the fundamentalist adherence to creationism. Larson delves deep into the internal documents of the ACLU to reveal how difficult it was to control Darrow and keep the case centered on a test of the law, not creationism. By revealing the ACLU’s agenda, Larson effectively shows that the Scopes trial was a battle between the concept of majority rule and individual rights.

Larson suggests that the burgeoning fight for rights arose from a gradual ideological shift to modernism. It was already under way before the Scopes trial even in rural areas. Bryan and his fundamentalist backers had trouble finding expert witnesses that could discredit evolution. Tennessee Governor Peay, even though he supported the Butler Act, founded Tennessee’s public schools based on modern education theory.(58) Even the fundamentalist spectators of Dayton shouted their approval to allow scientific expert
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