Scopes Trial, the trial of John T. Scopes in Dayton, Tennessee, in July, 1925, for violating a state law that forbade the teaching of evolution in the Tennessee public schools. The “monkey trial," as it is sometimes called (fundamentalists ridiculed the theory of evolution by claiming that it held that humans were descended from apes), attracted worldwide attention.
The Scopes case was arranged to test the constitutionality of the law. Tennessee's was not the only such law; the fundamentalist movement, with William Jennings Bryan as its popular leader, had for some years been mounting an attack against the theory of evolution. Among more liberal persons, there was growing concern over the idea that a religious group could control public education to the extent of banning teachings with which it did not agree.
The high point of the trial was the examination of Bryan (who was an attorney for the prosecution and took the stand as an expert witness on the Bible) by Clarence Darrow, chief counsel for the defense. Bryan's rigid fundamentalism was exposed to worldwide ridicule. Although Bryan's testimony was stricken from the trial record, it had appeared in the press; although Scopes was convicted, the fundamentalist movement's drive was blunted.
An appeal was made to the state supreme court, which overturned the verdict on a technicality but upheld the antievolution statute. The law was finally repealed in 1967.
The trial was dramatized in Inherit the Wind, a play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee (1955) and a motion picture (1960) With James Presley, Scopes wrote Center of the Storm (1967), a personal account of the controversy.