Nashville, Tennessee (JFK+50) Ninety years ago today, March 13, 1925. the Senate of the State of Tennessee, meeting here in the capital city, passed the Butler Act by a vote of 24 to 6.
The act, previously passed by the Tennessee House of Representatives, prohibited...
"the teaching of the Evolution Theory in all the Universities, and all other public schools of Tennessee, which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, and to provide penalties for the violations thereof."
The penalty for the misdemeanor violation of the Butler Act was set between $100 to $500 per offense.
The anti-evolution law was introduced as House Bill #185 on January 21, 1925 by John Washington Butler. The Senator reportedly admitted later that he didn't really know anything about evolution, but he had read that students were coming home from school "telling their mothers and fathers that the Bible was all nonsense."
Senator Butler then concluded the teaching of evolution was a dangerous practice.
The Butler Act passed the Tennessee House on January 28, 1925 by a vote of 71-5. After passing the Tennessee Senate, it was signed into law by Governor Austin Peay* on March 21, 1925.
In one of the most famous court trials of the 20th Century, the Butler Act was tested in the case of John T. Scopes vs. the State of Tennessee in Dayton, Tennessee in July 1925.
Journalist Walter Lippman compared the Butler Act to Thomas Jefferson's Virginia Act for Religious Freedom which says:
"to compel a man to furnish...money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is....tyrannical..."
Lippman pointed out that the Butler Act only prohibited the teaching of the evolution theory in schools of Tennessee which the taxpayers were required by law to contribute.
*Austin Peay (1876-1927) was born in Christian County, KY and attended Washington & Lee University and Centre College. He practiced law in Clarksville, TN before being elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives.
AP became the 1st Tennessee governor to win three consecutive terms (1923-1927) and the only one to date to die in office. The Governor was buried in Clarksville, TN.
Governor Austin Peay
Photo by Bain News Service
Library of Congress Image
Too Much Monkey Business