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Inheriting the Wind, or Reaping the Whirlwind?

We are again in another contentious period in America where battles over our culture and how we should live together are acrimonious. But there have been many points in our history that indicate we are only re-engaging a form of politics that is quintessentially American. One prominent past episode that occurred in Dayton, Tennessee during the summer of 1925—the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial”—has captured the American imagination like few legal proceedings ever have. Noted trial lawyer Clarence Darrow was part of the large legal team representing a 24-year-old substitute high school teacher, John Thomas Scopes, who was accused of violating the state’s Butler Act, which prohibited the teaching of evolution in a state-funded school. The celebrity co-prosecutor was William Jennings Bryan, the three-time Democratic presidential nominee, former Nebraska congressman, and Secretary of State to President Woodrow Wilson. Both Darrow and Bryan were prominent Progressive figures. Bryan, a left-wing evangelical and a fiery orator, is best known for his “Cross of Gold” speech at the 1896 Democratic National Convention.

The trial provided an opportunity for Darrow, whose reputation had been sullied by questionable tactics employed in the defense of radical labor leaders, to vindicate himself before a national audience. Chicago’s WGN radio station broadcast the trial nationwide and hundreds of reporters, some of them from overseas, covered the case. Geoffrey Cowan, author of the exhaustively-researched book The People v. Clarence Darrow, notes that Darrow achieved national notoriety, “won the support of Eastern sophisticates,” and “found new acceptance” as a result of the widely-publicized trial, especially his alleged humiliation of Darrow’s “old hero,” Bryan. This canard, which formed the dramatic crux of the 1960 movie Inherit the Wind, a highly-fictionalized depiction of the trial adapted from the 1955 play written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, is just one aspect of the popular mythology that surrounds the case.  

Almost all of the “conventional wisdom” concerning the Scopes trial is false. Contrary to the impression created by Inherit the Wind and other popular accounts (including the sensational reportage of H. L. Mencken of The Baltimore Sun, one of the leading journalists of his day), the trial was not a fundamentalist inquisition, but an ill-conceived publicity stunt by Dayton businessmen who were trying to attract tourists to the small town—to put Dayton on the map. To generate a test case challenging the statute, the American Civil Liberties Union had offered to defend any teacher charged with violating the Butler Act, gratis. Dayton businessmen recruited Scopes to agree to serve as the defendant, even though he was unsure he had actually taught evolution. Nonetheless, Scopes volunteered to be charged. The trial—for a misdemeanor offense—was staged. Celebrity lawyers were solicited to participate for the sole purpose of increasing public interest in the case. The Baltimore Sun paid part of the defense’s expenses because it knew that the spectacle would sell newspapers, and it did.  A lot of them

If the goal was to generate interest in Dayton, it worked. For eight days, the town was the focus of worldwide attention. During the trial, the population of Dayton swelled from about 1800 to about 5000, with a raucous carnival atmosphere. Yet the trial was cut-and-dried; the jury deliberated only nine minutes before rendering a guilty verdict. Scopes was fined $100. The Tennessee Supreme Court promptly reversed the conviction on a technicality, and the state chose not to retry the case. Tennessee eventually repealed the Butler Act. 

The eight-day show trial was a media circus, but little else. It resolved no factual disputes, established no new law, and settled no constitutional issues. It was a purely manufactured controversy—a radio-era precursor to reality TV and cable news. Bizarrely, Bryan died in his sleep (at age 65) five days after the trial ended. Instead of putting Dayton on the map in a positive way, the case left the town in undeserved ignominy.

Many plot features of Inherit the Wind—which was conceived during the Cold War as an anti-McCarthyism allegory—were entirely fabricated. Scopes (Bertram Cates) was not arrested in class and was never jailed; there was no unhinged fundamentalist preacher (Rev. Jeremiah Brown) exhorting the town; the trial was not accompanied by lynch mobs; Scopes/Cates was never burned in effigy and had no conflicted fiancée; and Bryan (Matthew Harrison Brady) was not a deranged buffoon or hysterical fanatic. Whatever one thinks about Bryan’s political or economic views, scholars regard him as one of the most important figures of the Progressive Era, and even as one of the most influential American politicians who never served as president.  His portrayal in Inherit the Wind (by Fredric March) as an incompetent windbag is a disgraceful farce. 

What the trial did represent, then and now, is a showdown between religious belief and secularism—as symbolized by the theory of evolution. In 1925, America was still a largely rural, deeply-religious nation. The urban elites, represented by eastern intellectuals and journalists who covered the trial, despised the small town “rubes,” “yokels,” and “morons”— Mencken scornfully called them the “booboisie”—who populated small towns like Dayton (or rural states such as Tennessee, for that matter). The elites had particular contempt for the rubes’ religiosity. To the sanctimonious city slickers, the Scopes trial was a momentous struggle between fundamentalism and modernity. The press corps overwhelmingly was rooting for what it thought was enlightened modernity. At the trial, Darrow, an atheist, openly mocked belief in the Bible, calling it “foolish,” “fool religion,” and the refuge of “bigots and ignoramuses.”

The highlight of the trial in Inherit the Wind is when the Darrow character (played heroically by Spencer Tracy of Father Flanagan fame) slyly manipulates the egotistical Bryan character into foolishly taking the witness stand as an expert on the Bible, and then humiliates him on cross-examination as the ignorant Bryan becomes flustered and angry. This scene perfectly captures the disdain of a secularist elite toward people of faith, which continues to this day. (Recall recent references in political campaigns to “deplorables” and “irredeemables” who “cling to guns or religion.”)  The trouble is, the pivotal scene is grossly inaccurate. What actually occurred at the trial is quite different.  

While there was an exchange between Darrow and Bryan, a devout Presbyterian, it lasted for only two hours, outside of the presence of the jury, and was ultimately stricken from the record by the trial judge as “irrelevant.” Some accounts describe Darrow’s questioning of Bryan as “insulting and abusive.” Moreover, Bryan agreed to the unusual colloquy, not out of vanity, but because he understood that Darrow would reciprocate—that is, submit to questioning by Bryan in turn regarding his beliefs. Bryan felt the worldwide coverage of the trial would expose Darrow’s anti-religious bias in an unflattering light. The courtroom afforded a valuable media opportunity—a pulpit or stage with national reach. However, the judge’s abrupt—but proper-ruling that Bryan’s testimony was irrelevant unexpectedly prevented Darrow from having to take the stand.  And, whereas the movie version makes it appear that Darrow’s questioning of Bryan was impromptu and spontaneous, in fact the questions were carefully prepared in advance and even rehearsed with surrogates outside of court.

Wishing to keep the eloquent Bryan from having an opportunity to summarize his case to the jury—and the world, via radio—Darrow waived the defense’s summation, which prevented the prosecution from presenting Bryan’s carefully-prepared closing remarks, which included these lines:

Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of the machine. It can also build gigantic intellectual ships, but it constructs no moral rudders for the control of storm-tossed human vessels. It not only fails to supply the spiritual element needed but some of its unproven hypotheses rob the ship of its compass and thus endanger its cargo….If civilization is to be saved from the wreckage threatened by intelligence not consecrated by love, it must be saved by the moral code of the meek and lowly Nazarene. His teachings, and His teachings alone, can solve the problems that vex the heart and perplex the world. 

In Inherit the Wind, Bryan/Brady is unfairly presented as a ridiculous fool—a pathetic figure. Bryan’s words show that he was thoughtful, decent, and—for his time—wise, albeit uninformed. And he won the case, beating the man regarded as one of the most formidable courtroom advocates of all time. Bryan was not so much an opponent of evolution as he was of Social Darwinism, and the Nietzschean philosophy he felt it represented. 

Unfortunately, Bryan’s legacy as a man of faith has been besmirched by Hollywood’s willingness to distort history in the aid of promoting its agenda. The left’s disdain for religion and religious belief has only gained momentum since 1925. From simply mocking piety, the elite intelligentsia has progressed to banning prayer in public schools, forbidding aid to religious schools, removing religious symbols from public property, deeming Judeo-Christian morality to be “irrational,” and persecuting Christian bakers (and other vendors) for honoring their religious consciences.  In 2016, enough American voters—many who are arguably the heirs to the long-ridiculed citizens of Dayton—rose up and pushed back

The Scopes trial, so badly mischaracterized in Inherit the Wind, better illustrates another Biblical verse, “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” 

Reader Discussion

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on July 17, 2019 at 12:21:40 pm

Thank you for this. It really helps to revisit history to learn from it. Never let others define you!

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Lydia
on July 17, 2019 at 13:12:46 pm

[…] Source: Inheriting the Wind, or Reaping the Whirlwind? […]

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Image of Inheriting the Wind, or Reaping the Whirlwind? – Melvin Charles McDowell, Member of PA Republican State Committee, Representing Bedford County
Inheriting the Wind, or Reaping the Whirlwind? – Melvin Charles McDowell, Member of PA Republican State Committee, Representing Bedford County
on July 17, 2019 at 13:22:16 pm

In "Land of Hope," Wilfred McClay's summary of the trial goes further than Mr. Pullium's. McClay says the text Scopes was teaching from was not biological Darwinism but social Darwinism and overtly racist in the way social Darwinism was in those days.

Robert E. Lee, the playwright, and Stanley Kramer, the producer/directer certainly were despicable people.

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EK
on July 17, 2019 at 13:32:04 pm

I think the problem with Bryan's closing remarks is that I don't think schools have any business "teaching" children that "moral code" of Jesus Christ is necessary to save civilization.

This essay decries "banning prayer in public schools" and "forbidding aid to religious schools." Regarding the latter, why in the world should Muslim or Jewish taxpayers be forced under penalty of law to pay taxes to support Christian schools, or vice versa? And regarding the banning of prayer in public schools, it reminds me of when I was in high school, and morning recitals of the Pledge of Allegiance ("to the wall" as Paul Simon so eloquently and appropriately put it) were replaced by a "moment of silence." That "moment of silence" was a step forward, not backward.

Speaking of the Pledge of Allegiance, I've been binge-watching the excellent HBO series "The Man in the High Castle" the last few nights. As most people probably know, the premise is that that the U.S. lost WWII, and in the early 1960s the U.S. is divided between the Nazis in the east, and the Japanese in the "Pacific States." I think it's the first episode of season two that has a U.S. high school doing the hypothetical Nazi version of the Pledge of Allegiance. It's excellent...as is the whole series so far.

It's interesting that this website refers to the "godless" version of the Pledge of Allegiance, without any note that the "godless" version itself might be--*is*, in my opinion--equally inappropriate in public schools:

https://ffrf.org/publications/brochures/item/14113-schoolprayer

Schools should teach science. Science say unequivocally that the world is more like 4+ billion years old than approximately 6000 years old. And homo sapiens did not arise from a lump of clay and a rib bone, but instead evolved from other primates. And there was no Flood in which all the animals and humans in the world perished except for some on a boat.

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Mark Bahner
on July 17, 2019 at 14:38:29 pm

“McClay says the text Scopes was teaching from was not biological Darwinism but social Darwinism and overtly racist in the way social Darwinism was in those days.”

Darwinism is a social construct that rejects the fact that one can determine the specific species of an individual at the moment of conception.

One can know through both Faith and reason, as affirmed by Biology, it is not possible for a human person to conceive a son or daughter, who is not, in essence, wholly human. You have been you from the moment of your conception, and I have been I, since the moment of mine.

Even with Time, it is not possible for a human person to evolve from something that was not, in essence, a human person, or evolve into someone who is not, in essence, a human person. Those so called “missing links”, have never existed in Time and Space.

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Nancy
on July 17, 2019 at 16:03:24 pm

Of course we've done exactly that, failed to teach children a moral code, and the result is as predicted: society is being ripped apart by a lack of moral restraint. Society is adrift without a rudder. Yet we are told that to solve the world's problems we must double down by teaching so called science and not morals. Ironically, science is corrupted, global warming hysteria, and morals, infanticide and cultural Marxism, are decreed by the edicts of political correctness that emanate from the "cultural elite." Our nation was founded on the principles of the Judeo Christian ethic in the Bible, which the colonists possessed. This has been officially discard by court actions. We are reaping the whirlwind.

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John Nielsen
on July 17, 2019 at 16:35:40 pm

Bryan’s legacy as a man of faith has been besmirched by Hollywood’s willingness to distort history in the aid of promoting its agenda.

Ooooo, that sinister Hollywood agenda! Would this be the same Hollywood that produced Quo Valis (1951), The Robe (1953), The Ten Commandments (1956), Ben-Hur (1959), King of Kings (1961), Barabbas (1961), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), etc.? But if you’re really intent on sounding like a crazy conspiracy theorist, maybe you’d want to emphasize the secret Jewish Hollywood agenda—now we’re talkin’!

Alternatively…

How ‘bout this: Hollywood likes to make money. That’s not exactly a hidden agenda.

And audiences like stories with clear heroes and clear villains. That’s not exactly hidden either.

So Hollywood created Inherit the Wind on the same formula that in created all these other movies—with a clear good guy and bad guy, and generally with some measure of glory for the good guy. Conspiracy optional.

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nobody.really
on July 17, 2019 at 17:12:23 pm

Having left a more critical remark below, let me also second Lydia's comment: This is a DELIGHTFUL account of the Scopes Monkey Trial. I hadn't heard this account before, and it's quite insightful.

Thank you very much.

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nobody.really
on July 17, 2019 at 17:35:23 pm

I don't know about any ARK - BUT- there was a flood and it is part of the history of almost every human society of the past TEN THOUSAND YEARS.

No hocus pocus - just geological and anthropological evidence to support this.
Doubtless, many creatures did perish.

BTW: You may want to look at the Cambrian Explosion before you laud all that Darwinian speculation as "science."

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gargamel rules smurfs
on July 17, 2019 at 19:47:11 pm

Why did list of movies you posted end in the 1960's?

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anony
on July 17, 2019 at 19:49:58 pm

I'm not religious, but...what in the HELL does your post have to do with ANYTHING in the article??? The article was about a movie that completely mischaracterizes and slants an historical event, creating a factually inaccurate narrative.

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anony
on July 17, 2019 at 21:15:02 pm

"I’m not religious, but…what in the HELL does your post have to do with ANYTHING in the article???"

My comments directly respond to William Jennings Bryan's "carefully prepared closing remarks". (Which didn't make it into the trial, but were certainly intended to!)

Bryan wrote:

"Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of the machine. It can also build gigantic intellectual ships, but it constructs no moral rudders for the control of storm-tossed human vessels. It not only fails to supply the spiritual element needed but some of its unproven hypotheses rob the ship of its compass and thus endanger its cargo….If civilization is to be saved from the wreckage threatened by intelligence not consecrated by love, it must be saved by the moral code of the meek and lowly Nazarene. His teachings, and His teachings alone, can solve the problems that vex the heart and perplex the world."

William Jennings Bryan was saying that schools should not simply teach science, they should teach morals. Specifically, *Christian* morals.

I was responding that schools should only teach science (and math and reading and writing). Schools should *not* be "teaching" morals. Issues of science include:

1) What is the age of the earth? (It's 4+ billion years old, not approximately 6000 years old, which is what scholars of the Bible come up with.)

2) Where did homo sapiens come from? (From other primates, not lumps of clay and rib bones.)

3) How did homo sapiens and other animals get distributed on earth? (Not from being let off an Ark two-by-two after a world-covering flood.)

I don't see where my remarks were confusing or irrelevant. Even if the movie was inaccurate, that doesn't change the issue that William Jennings Bryan was advocating teaching a "moral code" and not for simply teaching science.

P.S. If you haven't seen the TV series, "The Man in the High Castle," it has really excellent hypothetical classroom (and "church"!) scenes about what a 1960s high school (and "church"!) might be like in a Nazi-America version.

P.P.S. The text from which Scopes apparently taught was apparently deeply flawed...with pseudoscience mixed in with true science. But the solution there is to eliminate the pseudoscience, not to teach a "moral code" to counter the pseudoscience.

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Mark Bahner
on July 17, 2019 at 21:18:54 pm

Inherit the Wind came out in 1960, so it makes sense to me to refer to other movies of the same time period.

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Mark Bahner
on July 17, 2019 at 21:24:25 pm

You made the comment it was due to a financial incentive, no "conspiracy", yet...there aren't many movies in that genre in Hollywood this days.

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anony
on July 17, 2019 at 21:28:15 pm

"I don’t see where my remarks were confusing or irrelevant."
I don't think Brennan's quote was the point of the article.

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rightintel
on July 17, 2019 at 22:28:59 pm

Good article but it’s unlikely Bryan campaigned against Social Darwinism. That intellectual movement is mostly a myth used to discredit conservatives. See Geoffrey Hodgson’s work.

http://www.geoffrey-hodgson.info/user/image/socialdarwinism.pdf

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LesLein
on July 18, 2019 at 09:45:02 am

“I think the problem with Bryan’s closing remarks is that I don’t think schools have any business “teaching” children that “moral code” of Jesus Christ is necessary to save civilization.”

The purpose of education is to inform and develop good citizens.

“Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” - John Adams

Catholics are part of the public, too, and there is nothing in The Catholic Faith that precludes someone from being a Good citizen, in Heaven or on Earth.

In fact, in no way, shape, or form, does receiving funds for Catholic Schools, result in, Congress making a law “respecting an establishment of religion”, but by refusing to distribute money for education to Catholic Schools, Congress prohibits the free exercise of the ability of Catholic Schools to educate their children with morals and values consistent with our Founding Judeo-Christian principles.

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Nancy
on July 18, 2019 at 09:57:14 am

In fact, in no way, shape, or form, does receiving funds for Catholic Schools, result in, Congress making a law “respecting an establishment of religion”, but by refusing to distribute money for education to Catholic Schools, Congress prohibits the free exercise of the ability of Catholic Schools to educate their children with morals and values consistent with our Founding Judeo-Christian principles.

Getting pretty far off-topic, but at long last Nancy has said something I agree with.

Government should identify (in measurable terms) what it expects schools to accomplish, and then put out bids/issue vouchers for people to provide those things. Government wants kids to learn to read, write, and do arithmetic. Assuming Catholic schools can demonstrate that they provide that service, they should be eligible for school funding, too. For government to discriminate against Catholic schools because of they also teach an viewpoint constitutes discrimination on the basis of religion.

Two caveats: First, government may want to (need to?) ensure that kids have the OPTION of attending a non-sectarian school. And where economies of scale make it impractical to have competing schools, THIS dynamic may make it impractical for government to divide its resources between public and private schools.

Second, I'd make the same argument about Jewish schools and Muslim schools. I rather expect Nancy would not.

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nobody.really
on July 18, 2019 at 12:17:16 pm

Very well said and very true.

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John Baldridge
on July 18, 2019 at 12:59:12 pm

McClay says he did on page 289 of "Land of Hope" (2019).

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EK
on July 18, 2019 at 13:53:56 pm

What’s his source?

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LesLein
on July 18, 2019 at 14:33:49 pm

Like Shelby Foote's "The Civil War: A Narrative," McClay's "Land of Hope" is also a narrative that omits footnotes but offers an extensive bibliography.

So, I can't identify McClay's sources. What I can say is that McClay's summary accurately reflects William Jennings Bryan's entry in Wikipedia in the section concerning his anti-evolution position and the Scopes Trial.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Jennings_Bryan#Anti-evolution_activism

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EK
on July 18, 2019 at 17:02:45 pm

Jewish students and Muslim students are part of the public, too. To be clear, if there is nothing in a Faith based school that would preclude those students from an education consistent with our Founding Judeo-Christian principles, and thus from becoming Good citizens, why would anyone object?

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Nancy
on July 18, 2019 at 19:15:47 pm

Imagine if Jewish and Muslim schools teach reading, writing, arithmetic, or whatever curriculum the state requires, and supplements these lessons with lessons regarding their respective faiths--including, for example, a denial that Jesus was the Messiah foretold. If you're cool with tax dollars going for such educations, then I have misjudged you--and I apologize.

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nobody.really
on July 19, 2019 at 13:39:20 pm

No Greater Love Is There Than This, To Desire Salvation For One’s Beloved. I will Pray, that those who deny Jesus Is The Messiah, Come In The Flesh, will, hopefully, before, or at the moment of their death, recognize Christ, In All His Glory, repent, and, like The Good Thief, come late to The Fold.

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Nancy
on July 19, 2019 at 14:31:19 pm

"Of course we’ve done exactly that, failed to teach children a moral code, and the result is as predicted: society is being ripped apart by a lack of moral restraint."

I think you're ignoring substantial amounts of history. If you want to Make America Great Again, do you want to go back to the late 1950s or early 1960s, when people could be severely beaten and even have their bus set on fire, with them locked inside, simply for blacks and whites riding together?

https://www.pophistorydig.com/topics/tag/freedom-riders-bus-burning/

Or how about this picture from a lunch counter in Jackson, MS? How many of these guys from Central High School would you expect never prayed in school, and never said their Pledge of Allegiance?

http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/news/2013/may/23/real-violence-50-years-ago-woolworth/

"Our nation was founded on the principles of the Judeo Christian ethic in the Bible, which the colonists possessed."

Yes, and from which chapters do you think they were reading as many of them bought, sold, and beat their slaves?

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Mark Bahner
on July 19, 2019 at 14:48:18 pm

"I don’t think Brennan’s quote was the point of the article."

I think it clearly was the point of the article. The article objects to banning prayer in public schools and refusing public financing of religious schools. It seems clear to me that the author supports Bryan's recommendation to include the "moral code" of the Bible in schools.

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Mark Bahner
on July 19, 2019 at 14:55:19 pm

"In fact, in no way, shape, or form, does receiving funds for Catholic Schools, result in, Congress making a law “respecting an establishment of religion”, but by refusing to distribute money for education to Catholic Schools, Congress prohibits the free exercise of the ability of Catholic Schools to educate their children with morals and values consistent with our Founding Judeo-Christian principles."

If anything can be stated to be unequivocally true in this discussion, it is that every single dollar of Congressional spending on public schools is unconstitutional.

Just ask James Madison:

"If Congress can apply money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may establish teachers in every state, county, and parish, and pay them out of the public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the union; they may assume the provision for the poor; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post roads; in short, every thing, from the highest object of state legislation, down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress; for every object I have mentioned would admit the application of money, and might be called, if Congress pleased, provisions for the general welfare."

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Mark Bahner
on July 19, 2019 at 21:30:22 pm

"Yes, and from which chapters do you think they were reading as many of them bought, sold, and beat their slaves?"
They were doing that in Africa, and North America, etc. before the US was created, and also before any Europeans ever stepped foot on those continents. Since slavery and subjugation was the norm for most of human history, the question is how and where did that trend reverse? The Europeans advanced culturally due to some basic moral principles like re: murder, theft, deception, adultery, jealously, etc form the Judeo-Christian based values. You can't have commerce without those, either, which also facilitated the great enrichment period. When they came in contact w/ the indigenous peoples of other continents, many of them took advantage of their cultural advancements. However, the principles which facilitated advancement were still valid, which is why they were able to subjugate those people in the first place. It also has a lot to do with why the US is the world's superpower, and why the US has more minorities in positions of wealth, influence, and power.

"...when people could be severely beaten and even have their bus set on fire, with them locked inside, simply for blacks and whites riding together?"
"Yes, and from which chapters do you think they were reading as many of them bought, sold, and beat their slaves?"
You should probably take a look at the prevalence of that type of behavior BEFORE the basic moral structures were developed. There are no perfect people, without hypocrisy in ANY value system or country. The question should be how and what value system resulted in reversing the hypocrisy the most. Western civilization and its Judeo-Christian founding has been less imperfect than others in this regard. That's why you don't see people leaving those countries, and why you see so many people trying to get into them.

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anony
on July 19, 2019 at 23:41:52 pm

If you say so, Susan.

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HMH
on July 20, 2019 at 18:34:30 pm

Good article!

When one reads the transcript of the Darrow/Bryan cross-examination, it should be noted that Bryan did not come off as poorly as "Inherit the Wind" portrays. Bryan was a very able debater.

It's also worth noting that Darrow later debated a much more able Christian apologist, the British Catholic and author G.K. Chesterton, and it did not go at all well for Darrow as he attempted to use the same arguments he had against Bryan. As a newspaper reported at the time:

"At the conclusion of the debate everybody was asked to express his opinion as to the victor and slips of paper were passed around for that purpose. The award went directly to Chesterton. Darrow in comparison, seemed heavy, uninspired, slow of mind, while G.K.C. was joyous, sparkling and witty …. quite the Chesterton one had come to expect from his books. The affair was like a race between a lumbering sailing vessel and a modern steamer. Mrs. Frances Taylor Patterson also heard the Chesterton–Darrow debate, but went to the meeting with some misgivings because she was a trifle afraid that Chesterton’s “gifts might seem somewhat literary in comparison with the trained scientific mind and rapier tongue of the famous trial lawyer. Instead, the trained scientific mind, the clear thinking, the lightning quickness in getting a point and hurling back an answer, turned out to belong to Chesterton. I have never heard Mr. Darrow alone, but taken relatively, when that relativity is to Chesterton, he appears positively muddle-headed.

" … As Chesterton summed it up, he felt as if Darrow had been arguing all afternoon with his fundamentalist aunt, and the latter kept sparring with a dummy of his own mental making. When something went wrong with the microphone, Darrow sat back until it could be fixed. Whereupon G.K.C. jumped up and carried on in his natural voice, “Science you see is not infallible!” Whatever brilliance Darrow had in his own right, it was completely eclipsed. For all the luster that he shed, he might have been a remote star at high noon drowned by the bright incandescent light of the sun. Chesterton had the audience with him from the start, and when it was over, everyone just sat there, not wishing to leave.

"Ostensibly the defender of science against Mr. Chesterton, [Darrow] obviously knew much less about science than Mr. Chesterton did; when he essayed to answer his opponent on the views of Eddington and Jeans, it was patent that he did not have the remotest conception of what the new physics was all about."

There seems to be a desire by the Left, and the atheistic Left in particular to pigeonhole Bryan into the role of a conservative defender of the "Religious Right" due to his involvement in the Scopes trial, but as Mr. Pulliam noted, Bryan was a progressive. Bryan was the Democratic Party's nominee for President three times, and he is not easily pigeonholed into traditional political or social categories.

Although he was Secretary of State under Wilson, he was an anti-militarist who opposed the United States' entry into WWI and resigned over the issue, a position for which he was mocked by much of the pro-war population - the Cowardly Lion in "The Wizard of Oz" was a rather cruel satire of Bryan by L. Frank Baum, a Republican activist, and was recognized as such by the readers of time.

As an opponent of militarism, he had earlier warily supported the Spanish-American War out of a desire for Cuban independence, and even led a regiment of the Nebraska National Guard whose mission ended prematurely before combat with the cessation of hostilities. As an opponent of American imperialism, he was outraged that the Treaty of Paris granted the U.S. control over the Philippines, and made "anti-Imperialism" the key platform plank of his 1900 run at the presidency.

Bryan campaigned for a progressive income tax as a means of wealth redistribution, supported women's suffrage, opposed the increasing power of the corporations, and fought for a ban on corporate financing of elections,

Although he also shared some of the traditionally racist views of the Democratic Party - he opposed Theodore Roosevelt's invitation to Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House, and although he distrusted the Ku Klux Klan, he helped defeat a resolution condemning the KKK at the 1924 Democratic Convention - he also supported many other common modern progressive issues, including infrastructure spending on highways and education, protections for organized labor and labor organizers, an 8-hour work day, a minimum wage, the right of unions to strike, the end of dark money contributions to political campaigns, and an end to gender discrimination.

With his retirement from politics, Bryan, a Presbyterian, grew increasingly involved in evangelical and church activities, and as was to be expected, his social progressivism influenced that, or perhaps in his mind, grew from that. His creationist views were somewhat nuanced - although a biblical literalist on the issue of Creation, Bryan was a "Day-Age" creationist, and held that the 7 "days" of creation could constitute much longer geological periods, and could even extend to billions of years. Although Bryan advocated for laws against teaching evolution as scientific fact, he opposed any criminal penalty for those teaching it and called for it to be taught only as a hypothesis.

Coinciding with his religious objections to the teaching of Darwinism as scientific fact, he clearly saw and enunciated the social risks of applying Social Darwinism as a Progressive cause. In this, he parted company with his Progressive comrades,

Although his concerns were more for poor and disenfranchised whites than black citizens, he also recognized the danger that teaching evolution could increase the power of the Social Darwinist movement in American society, particularly for the increasingly popular Eugenics movement, which advocated for the forced sterilization of the poor, the "congenitally criminal" or "socially unfit" poorer classes - a movement which was widely popular not only in his Democratic Party, but also in wider political and social circles. Racists throughout American society supported Social Darwinism and the Eugenics movement, with the fear that the "inferior racial stock" of non-white citizens and new immigrants from Europe and Asia would deteriorate America's supposed superior white race, and the enactment of "Jim Crow" laws against racial mixing and miscegenation by Democratic legislatures were clearly written with Eugenic and Social Darwinist justifications in mind.

Social Darwinism in general and Eugenics in particular were considered part of the Progressive movement in the most specific sense, in the Pelagian view that society and people are infinitely perfectible through the use of the coercive tools of government to supposedly improve society. In this case, through a "scientific" application of breeding tools used on animals to the human species. Few young people - can begin to imagine the hold the Eugenics ideology held in America throughout the first half of the century. Involuntary sterilization of "the infirm" was common, awards were given at state fairs for the "most genetically perfect" babies, Eugenics propaganda posters were a common sight in American cities, and confinement and forced abortions were performed on those deemed genetically unfit,

The Catholic Church was one of the few institutions to oppose Eugenics (which were explicitly condemned in the 1930 papal encyclical Casti connubii by Pope Pius XI), and despite his other faults, Bryan should be given credit as well for his opposition to this horror, which was directly supported by Margaret Sanger in this country and Hitler overseas, among other celebrities, such as H.G. Wells and Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton.

Bryan the anti-militarist was also rightly concerned about the influence Social Darwinism was having on the German militarists after WWI. Per LesLein's question on sources, Bryan cited Vernon Kellogg's book" Headquarters Nights: A Record of Conversations and Experiences at the Headquarters of the German Army in France and Belgium"(published by the Atlantic Monthly Press in 1917) which set forth the use of Darwinist principles as applied to nations by the German High Command.

Bryan also expressed concern that Social Darwinists opposed the use of vaccinations for the underclass, and that Darwin's expressed opposition to vaccination because "it has “preserved thousands who, from a weak constitution would, but for vaccination, have succumbed to smallpox!” All of the sympathetic activities of civilized society are condemned because they enable “the weak members to propagate their kind.” Then he drags mankind down to the level of the brute and compares the freedom given to man unfavorably with the restraint that we put on barnyard beasts. . . . Let no one think that this acceptance of barbarism as the basic principle of evolution died with Darwin. Within three years a book has appeared whose author is even more frankly brutal than Darwin. The book . . . “The New Decalogue of Science” . . . has attracted wide attention."

Bryan quoted Albert Edward Wiggams bestselling 1922 Eugenics "The New Decalogue of Science" for its promotion of Social Darwinism:

"Evolution is a bloody business, but civilization tries to make it a pink tea. Barbarism is the only process by which man has ever organically progressed, and civilization is the only process by which he has ever organically declined. Civilization is the most dangerous enterprise upon which man ever set out. For when you take man out of the bloody brutal but beneficent hand of natural selection you place him at once in the soft, perfumed, daintily gloved but far more dangerous hand of artificial selection. And unless you call science to your aid and make this artificial selection as efficient as the rude methods of nature you bungle the whole task." (Wiggams, 1922)

It can and has been argued that of Bryan's several objections to the teaching of Darwinism in schools - theological concerns, the rights of tax-paying parents to choose what their children are taught in schools, and the scientific objections of the time, such as those of Harvard Biology Professor Louis] Agassiz - his primary concern was the social impact of an exclusively Darwinist view of human morality and origins. Bryan was right about some things and wring about others, but in this, he was correct.

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Mick C.
on July 20, 2019 at 18:44:46 pm

The phrase that was added to the Pledge of Allegiance - "under God" was added explicitly from one of the most important speeches in American history, the Gettysburg address -" that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom."

It was added in the days after WWII, when an exhausted nation realized that, having defeated one totalitarian enemy, t new menaces now confronted it, the explicitly atheist and anti-religious communist nations.

As a reminder that our country had faced trying times before in the pursuit and survival and freedom, the phrase was popularized by the Sons of the American Revolution and the Knights of Columbus.

It seems wholly appropriate to me, as a non-denominational national expression of religious trust and faith. If, as many atheists assert, atheism is not a doctrine but a simple lack of belief in God, it should not cause concern to them.

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Mick C.
on July 20, 2019 at 19:32:38 pm

"You should probably take a look at the prevalence of that type of behavior BEFORE the basic moral structures were developed."

No, it's not relevant to go even further back in time. I was responding to John Nielsen's claim that:

“Of course we’ve done exactly that, failed to teach children a moral code, and the result is as predicted: society is being ripped apart by a lack of moral restraint.”

The society in the U.S. is not being "ripped apart by a lack of moral restraint." For example, rates of both violent crime and property crime have been declining for decades:

https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/01/03/5-facts-about-crime-in-the-u-s/

Or to take something specifically related to schools, the rates of sexual intercourse among high school students have also been declining for decades:

http://marripedia.org/_media/high_school_students_who_had_sexual_intercourse_by_race.png

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Mark Bahner
on July 22, 2019 at 18:35:57 pm

Conservative statist defends theocratic socialist statist. Ho hum!

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James Peron
on July 23, 2019 at 10:05:32 am

[…] Mark Pulliam explains what really caused the “Scopes Monkey Trial” and what was at stake … which doesn’t match up well at all against what little most people will remember about it today: […]

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Image of Debunking the “common wisdom” about the “Scopes Monkey Trial” « Quotulatiousness
Debunking the “common wisdom” about the “Scopes Monkey Trial” « Quotulatiousness
on August 21, 2020 at 22:55:56 pm

H.L. Mencken, as you've pointed out was no friend of America, and especially hated Christian Americans. He translated Nietzsche's book "The Anti-Christ," into English and also wrote a similar book "Treatise on the Gods." Mencken considered himself to be a fascist, but admitted he liked socialists as well.
Thanks for bringing him up.

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Rebecca

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