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How to Fix Democracy

Jun 8, 2023

The Scopes Trial and the Fight for the Freedom to Teach | In 1924, John Scopes, an instructor in a public school in Dayton, Tennessee, was indicted for violating the Tennessee Butler Act for teaching evolution in a publicly funded school. Strong personalities and strong beliefs clashed in the courthouse as they engrossed and even inflamed the country. Clarence Darrow, America's most famous litigator dramatically clashed with Williams Jennings Bryan, populist, presidential nominee and evangelical believer. The "trial of the century," as it was called, revealed profound cultural and religious issues. Despite Darrow's passionate espousal of free speech and civil liberties, Scopes was found guilty. The conviction was overturned but the issues were hardly resolved. Controversies over public education have continued to reverberate in America, reaching deep into each decade from the 1920s to today. Historian and legal scholar Edward Larson illuminates that history and relevance for us today.


Larson holds the Hugh and Hazel Darling Chair in Law and is University Professor of History at Pepperdine University. Originally from Ohio with a PhD in the history of science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and law degree from Harvard, Larson has lectured on all seven continents and taught at Stanford Law School, University of Melbourne, Leiden University, and the University of Georgia, where he chaired the History Department. Prior to becoming a professor, Larson practiced law in Seattle and served as counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, DC.