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Creationist Misquotation of Darrow
"It is bigotry for public schools to teach only one theory of origins." So said Clarence Darrow at the Scopes trial. Or did he?
This quote—of dubious authenticity and quite possibly apocryphal—has become quite a favorite with creationists. It appears in dozens of articles and books and was quoted in news reports of the Supreme Court hearing of the Louisiana creation-science law. Creationists use the quote as support for their "two model" or "balanced treatment" approach such as that mandated by the Louisiana bill. After all, they triumphantly argue, even Darrow only wanted to allow both "theories" or "models" to be taught and realized that it would be unfair not to permit both sides to be heard in the classroom. Creationists thus claim that the shoe is now on the other foot, that today it is evolution which is taught exclusively in the schools and that creationists are merely trying to redress this unfair monopoly by doing what Darrow himself urged: permitting the opposing theory to be heard. When Darrow spoke, only creationism was permitted to be taught; now, only evolution is allowed. Simple justice, as Darrow supposedly points out in this quote, requires that both be presented.
Acceptance of the Quote
This quote has been repeated so persistently that even noncreationists assume it is of unquestioned authenticity. The Washington Times, for example, concluded one article, distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, with this statement:
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Clarence Darrow was, of course, the famed lawyer who defended John Scopes in the celebrated 1925 "Monkey Trial." Scopes was accused of violating the recently passed Tennessee anti-evolution law. When William Jennings Bryan agreed to lead the prosecution team, Darrow offered his services to the American Civil Liberties Union to help defend Scopes in this precedential case.
Typically, creationists repeat the Darrow quote without citing any reference at all. Generally, they state or imply that Darrow made the quote during the trial itself, giving the impression that it is a well-known and undisputed fact.
Norman Geisler, for instance, uses the quote as the epigraph for the second chapter of his book about the 1981 Arkansas creation-science trial, The Creator in the Courtroom: "Scopes II" (Geisler, 1982, p. 11). Geisler, a professor of systematic theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, was a witness for creationism in the Arkansas trial. He gives the quote, which is printed in large, bold type, a page all to itself, framed by blank pages before and after. The only attribution is "ACLU Attorney, Clarence Darrow: Scopes Trial, 1925." Geisler also repeats the quote in the main text (p. 19) and twice more in appendices (pp. 200 and 203).
One thing is clear, however: Darrow did not say any such thing during the trial—at least not according to the quasi-official, unedited, published transcript of the entire proceedings, the 1925 book The World's Most Famous Court Trial (National Book Company). It is conceivable that the stenographer might have missed a few words, since there was considerable noise and excitement during the trial, and part of it was held outdoors, but it seems most unlikely that such a ringing statement would have been omitted from the complete transcript in the published version considered authoritative by scholars.
Wendell Bird's Role
Those creationists who name a published source for the quote usually cite an article by Wendell Bird entitled "Freedom of Religion and Science Instruction in Public Schools" (1978). John Eidsmoe, for instance, in his book The Christian Legal Advisor, cites Robert O'Bannon as quoted in Bird (Eidsmoe, 1984, p. 213) and follows the quote with, "Thus thundered Clarence Darrow. . . ." Eidsmoe was visiting professor at Oral Roberts University's O. W. Coburn School of Law (the Coburn School of Law has since moved to Pat Robertson's CBN University). His book carries a foreword by John W. Whitehead, the creationist lawyer who heads the Rutherford Institute, a group which supports and defends fundamentalist legal rights. (Eidsmoe also states that Darrow used "Nebraska Man" in the trial [1984, p. 206]. This is another creationist error which is being perpetuated by sheer repetition. "Nebraska Man," based upon a fossil tooth found in 1922 which turned out to be that of an extinct peccary, was never mentioned during the trial—although Osborn, its chief supporter, had indeed needled Bryan about it prior to the trial.)
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Wendell Bird's article, "Freedom of Religion and Science Instruction in Public Schools," which popularized the quote, was published in 1978 in the Yale Law Journal. Bird, then an editor of the Yale Law Journal, won the Egger Prize for this massively documented and exhaustively researched article. In it, he argues that teaching only evolution violates constitutional requirements of "neutrality" regarding religion and proposes the teaching of creation science as a legal remedy. (Robert Bork, then a law professor at Yale, was Bird's adviser for this article.) Bird later became staff attorney at the Institute for Creation Research. The "Resolution for Balanced Presentation of Evolution and Scientific Creationism" (1979b), which he wrote for the widely distributed ICR Impact series, became the model for a number of proposed "balanced treatment" laws, including the Arkansas bill, though, at the time, Bird—in line with ICR policy—intended it as a sample "resolution" to be submitted to boards of education rather than as actual legislation.
Bird is now an attorney with an Atlanta firm and is also a member of the Rutherford Institute. (F. Tayton Dencer, another former Yale Law Journal editor and former professor at Coburn, has joined Bird at the Rutherford Institute.) Bird was chief defense counsel for the Lousiana creation science bill. It was he who argued the case before the Supreme Court in December 1986. Bird's main arguments are that evolution is just as religious as creationism, since many denominations and secular faiths support or affirm it, and that the inclusion of creation science in the curriculum would have a primarily secular—not religious—legislative purpose of "neutralizing" teachings of origins. In defense of the latter, he cited the Darrow quote:
The reference Bird gives for the Darrow quote (footnote 225; the article consists mostly of footnotes and legal citations) is: "R. O'Bannon, `Creation, Evolution, and Public Education 5,' Dayton Symposium on Tennessee's Evolution Laws (May 18, 1974)." It is from Bird's influential and authoritative article that all recent use of the quote derives. This, then—though Bird is often not cited and his source of O'Bannon even less—is the origin of the widespread use today of the quote by creationists.
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Proliferation of the Quote
Bird repeated the quote in another ICR Impact article, "Evolution in Public Schools and Creation in Students' Homes: What Creationists Can Do":
Bird used the quote again in his preface to Jerry Bergman's book, The Criterion: Religious Discrimination in America (1984) about persecution of creationist teachers and students. Bird complains that the evolutionist academic community is now exhibiting the same intolerance it decried during the Scopes trial and implies that Darrow made the quote during the trial:1
Just two pages prior to this, John Eidsmoe, in the foreword to Bergman's book, also repeats the quote:
Bergman himself used the quote in his 1979 booklet, Teaching About the Creation/Evolution Controversy, a volume in the Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation's Fastback series. He cites Bird's Yale Law Journal use of the quote.
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As is dismayingly typical with creationists, and with fundamentalists generally, the quote is passed on from writer to writer—usually with no reference and never with any attempt to check original sources for accuracy. It says what they want to believe, so they assume it is true. Often, the quote acquires some additional emphasis or embroidery in the retelling, as in Eidsmoe's statement that it was "thundered" by Darrow. In a debate against Frank Awbrey held at Christian Heritage College—ICR's home turf—Duane Gish, ICR's second in command and foremost creationist debater, likewise proclaimed that Darrow "thundered" at the Scopes trial that "it is biogtry to teach only one theory of origins."
Elmer B. Sachs, in a booklet called Who Fathered "Mother" Nature?, credits Darrow as saying:
Sachs declares that evolution is a Trojan Horse of atheism and communism and should not be allowed in the schools at all. In denying God the creator, evolutionists attribute creation to Mother Nature, who Sachs derides as a "myth but never a `mythess.' "
Unlike Sachs, whose booklet may not be taken seriously by many people, televangelist D. James Kennedy most certainly is taken very seriously. Kennedy, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida, delivered the keynote address at the 1986 International Creation Conference held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This lecture was later broadcast on his weekly telecast, and tapes and transcripts are distributed free. In this address, "Origins: Creation or Evolution?" a minor masterpiece of misleading statements and distorted evidence delivered with exquisite rhetorical skill, Kennedy said this:
(Kennedy, who in 1985 sent to his national television audience a petition addressed to the California Department of Public Instruction, aimed at preventing the presentation of evolution as fact, later circulated a similar petition urging confirmation of Judge Bork for the Supreme Court.)
Lane Anderson repeats the quote in an article in Issues and Answers, adding:
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Issues and Answers is a fundamentalist newspaper published by the Caleb Campaign (Student Action for Christ). Strongly creationist, it is distributed free in many public schools. This distribution was the subject of a 1987 court case in Pennsylvania in which John Whitehead and another Rutherford Institute attorney successfully defended the rights of students to distribute the newspaper in school.
The Forerunner, a newspaper published by Maranatha Campus Ministries and widely distributed on college campuses across the country, repeated the quote in an article called "Who's Censoring You?" (Hogancamp, 1983, p. 19). Maranatha, sponsor of the 1987 National Creation Conference, recently started up a Society for Creation Science. "The goal of SCS," wrote national director David Skjaerlund in a letter to me, "is to present the biblical truths and scientific evidences for creation versus evolution on every major college campus in the world." Currently, they are presenting creation science seminars at a number of colleges; their stated aim is to teach creationism as an accredited college course on every campus.
Cal Thomas, a syndicated columnist who was a Moral Majority vice-president under Jerry Falwell, repeats the quote in Book Burning, a book in which he accuses evolutionists and other secular humanists of censorship directed against fundamentalists. After quoting a speech by Norman Geisler to a U.S. Senate prayer breakfast, in which Geisler invokes Darrow's quote, Thomas concludes: "Curious, isn't it, that secularists who go to court to ban a point of view from a textbook are not called censors?" (Thomas, 1983, pp. 70 and 71).
Ellen Myers, vice-president of the Creation Social Science and Humanities Society, cites the quote and Thomas's comment in a review of Thomas's book in the Creation Social Sciences and Humanities Quarterly (1984, p. 23).
One of the most prominent uses of the quote is in Arlie J. Hoover's book, The Case for Teaching Creation. Hoover uses the quote twice (1981, pp. 8 and 82). It is, in fact, the book's motif; the book concludes with it: "We close by repeating the words of Clarence Darrow: `It is bigotry for public schools to teach only one theory of origins."'
Tracing the Source
Bird, whose article spread the quote, cites as his source O'Bannon's 1974 Dayton symposium piece. Finding no listing of this in any library, I wrote to Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee, to see if they knew of it. Bryan College, an evangelical Bible-based institution, was founded in Dayton—the site of the Scopes trial—shortly after the trial in honor of William Jennings Bryan. I received a prompt and generous reply from Richard Cornelius of the English department, who has written about the Scopes trial for the Tennessee Historical Quarterly and other publications. Dr. Cornelius sent me a transcript of the symposium cited by Bird, Return to the Courthouse After Fifty Years: Proceedings of the Dayton Symposium on Tennessee's Evolution Laws, Held in the Rhea County Courthouse, Dayton, Tennessee, May 18, 1974. The symposium was sponsored by the Rhea County Historical Society, the Continuing Education Division of the University of Tennessee, and the Philosophy Department of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
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One of the symposium panelists was Frederic Le Clercq, a law professor at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, who wrote a prescient warning about the re-emergence of creationist legislation that same year (1974) in the Vanderbilt Law Review entitled "The Monkey Laws and the Public Schools: A Second Consumption?" (the article was reprinted in a 1974 issue of American Biology Teacher as "The Constitution and Creationism").
Robert O'Bannon is a biology professor at Lee College in Cleveland, Tennessee. Unlike Le Clercq, O'Bannon supports the teaching of creationism in public schools. The paragraph in which he quotes Darrow reads:
O'Bannon gives no source for the quote. I asked him recently where it came from and whether he had intended it as a direct quote, as the transcript indicated, or merely a paraphrase. O'Bannon, who was very courteous and open, said it was a direct quote and that he got it from the Griggs reference cited elsewhere in his symposium talk.
That reference is listed simply as "J. F. Griggs, Science and Scripture, 4, 26 (1974)." Science and Scripture is a magazine which was published in the early 1970s in Beaumont, Texas, by Michael Leon Trapasso. Staff writers included Harold Clark, William Tinkle, Harold Slusher, and other now well-known creationists. In 1973, the magazine was taken over by the Creation-Science Research Center of San Diego, which published a few more issues, including the one in question.
Robert Kofahl, a CSRC staff scientist, kindly sent to me a complete reference to the article cited by O'Bannon: "Is the Public School the Established Church?" by Jolly F. Griggs in Science and Scripture (March/April 1974), 4:2:23-29. The quote appears on page twenty-five: "Clarence Darrow rightly observed during the famous Scopes Trial, `It's bigotry for the public schools to teach only one theory of origins."
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Griggs, it turned out, sometimes attends meetings at the same local creation science group that I do (the San Fernando Valley chapter of the Bible-Science Association). He also heads his own group, the Creation Science Association of California in Ventura, but his group apparently exists primarily for purposes other than meetings. When I called to ask about the quote, Griggs responded readily and tried to be as helpful as he could.
Griggs modestly volunteered that his Science and Scripture article was a "trivial essay" that he had not intended as a scholarly reference. The Darrow quote was written from memory, without the aid of a written source. For this reason, he said, he intended the quote as a paraphrase, not a direct quote. He had heard it orally from a Baptist preacher in Denver who died some years ago. Griggs emphasized, however, that this preacher was quite trustworthy, so even though paraphrased, he is sure that the quote is accurate. The preacher himself got it from a Dayton newspaper account around the time of the trial, he thinks. Griggs believes the reporter probably heard Darrow say it before the actual court proceedings, though he is not sure whether it was a public statement or something said during an interview.
Griggs also mentioned that Bird had called him some time before seeking to check the accuracy of the quote-before Bird wrote his Yale Law Journal article, Griggs thinks. Griggs also thinks that Bird had found it in another source as well, probably a book. I had written to Bird before talking to O'Bannon and Griggs, requesting the source of the quote and its authenticity; as yet, almost two years later, he has not replied.
This is as far as I have followed the trail. However, a potential, and somewhat ironic, source for the quote occurs in the play Inherit the Wind. Drummond (Darrow), in interrogating Brady (Bryan) during the trial over the right of Cates (Scopes) to teach evolution, begins to close in:
No one to my knowledge—either in Darrow's time or in ours—has attempted legislation to require the teaching of evolution. That would, indeed, constitute a "Scopes trial in reverse." But could it be this exchange in the play that lies at the root of our quote?
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Of course, the quote could have originated in a local newspaper account around the time of the trial, but I seriously doubt it. And even if it did, I would question its accuracy. Unless it was uttered in some strange context, it makes no sense for Darrow to have said any such thing. Edward Larson—a lawyer, science historian, and author of Trial and Error (1985), a legal history of the creationism controversy in America—told me that he has seen no evidence of such a statement by Darrow, although he himself tried to track it down. More importantly, Larson points out that it goes against Darrow's trial strategy and entire record. The issue at the time was whether or not evolution should be taught in the public schools. Larson notes that "biblical creationism was not (and according to Darrow's opponent William Jennings Bryan should not be) taught in public schools." Bryan, though he had become a champion of fundamentalism, conceded that biblical creationism should not be taught in tax-supported public schools. His argument was that, since the Genesis account could not be taught, evolution should not be taught either (at least not as established fact). This was the intent of the 1925 Tennessee anti-evolution law: to ensure that evolution would not be taught, since it was held to conflict with the biblical account of creation. In other words, the law Bryan was defending was intended to enforce neutrality not by requiring that both theories be taught, as creationists now demand, but by prohibiting the teaching of evolution. While Bryan wanted neither taught in public schools, Darrow was challenging the law in order to allow the teaching of evolution. As Larson wrote in a letter to me: "Why then would Darrow say that it was bigotry to teach only one view of origins? The Dayton public schools were only teaching one view—evolution—and that was what Darrow was trying to defend." Darrow defended the teaching of evolution in public school science classrooms because evolution is scientific. The biblical account of creation is not scientific, he argued, and he did not want it taught as science.
There is another glaring misquotation of Darrow in this regard. It appears in Origins—Two Models: Evolution or Creation, a 1983 video tape from ICR. This video is intended for public school use. On the surface it seems scrupulously fair, balanced, and scientific—given the assumption, of course, that creationism is a valid competing scientific theory. The video presents both the evolution and creation science "models."
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The opening scene of the ICR video is a reenactment of the Scopes trial. (Several recent creation science films and videos open with Scopes trial footage or scenes shot in front of the Rhea county courthouse. The "Scopes trial in reverse" motif is extremely popular.) In this ICR reenactment, Darrow delivers an impassioned plea:
This is the same argument: namely, that today it is the dogmatic evolutionist establishment which is indoctrinating schoolchildren and not allowing the other side—creation science—to be heard. The video narration continues:
This video dialogue and narration is also included in the accompanying handbook, A Video Guide to Origins—Two Models: Evolution-Creation (Bliss, 1984a, pp. 91-92). Bliss also repeats the Darrow plea in a Forerunner article (1984b, p. 10).
But Darrow's eloquent plea, which is so dramatically reenacted in the video, is misquoted, resulting in a most serious distortion of meaning and intent. In fact, this misquoted plea was not even uttered by Darrow but by his co-attorney, Dudley Field Malone. What Malone actually said was this:
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This is far different. Malone urged that the children be taught both science (that is, evolution) and theology—and by theology he does not mean creation science. Significantly, he urges that these be kept separate, that they not be confused. Theology should not be taught in the science classroom and especially not as an equally valid scientific explanation (as the ICR implies Darrow intended for creationism). In short, religious theories should not intrude in the science classroom.
This highly misleading misquotation is also being passed on between creationists. Paul Bartz, the editor of Bible Science Newsletter, in an article entitled "The Shocking Truth About the Scopes Trial," says:
Bartz gives no reference for the quote. When I asked him about it, he wrote back that it can be found in the transcript of the trial. He acknowledged that he himself had not seen it in the transcript, however; he had gotten it from Eidsmoe.
This revisionist picture of Darrow's argument by modern creationists was embraced by Judge Thomas Gee of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Eight of the fifteen judges of this court voted not to reconsider the Louisiana creation science law. It was because of the closeness of this vote that Louisiana successfully took the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Gee, who wrote the strongly dissenting opinion for the seven judges who favored the bill, argued that, "by requiring that the whole truth be taught, Louisiana aligned itself with Darrow." ACLU national director Ira Glasser commented that Gee's comparison would make Darrow turn over in his grave.
When the Supreme Court struck down the Louisiana Balanced Treatment Act in 1987, Justice Scalia argued similarly in his sharply dissenting opinion. Scalia's opinion (to which Chief Justice Rehnquist, the other dissenting judge, added his concurrence) excoriated the majority for its repressive "Scopes in reverse" policy. Scalia blamed the majority's refusal to consider creation science as scientific rather than religious on the "facts and the legend of Scopes." The Scopes "legend," he complained, has predisposed the Court to erroneously interpret all attempted constraints on the teaching of evolution as a manifestation of fundamentalist repression. But, he went on:
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Many creationists, such as Bartz, express great indignation at misinterpretation of the Scopes trial by evolutionists. They profess to be outraged at perpetuation of "myths" about the trial and careless acceptance of inaccurate and propagandistic versions. It is odd, therefore, that they are so eager themselves to accept quotes ostensibly from the trial without checking for accuracy. Bartz, for instance, continues to chide evolutionists for errors and inaccuracies regarding the trial. "If Zimmerman's research had been carefully done from original resources," he remarked reprovingly of one such critic, "he might have avoided discrediting himself" (1987, p. 3).
It is quite true that the Scopes trial has assumed a mythic status in our culture and history. The 1960 movie, and before that the play, Inherit the Wind has further distorted many people's perception of the case. Creationists protest showings of this film in schools as a documentary account. They have a valid point: the film presents a melodramatic, fictionalized caricature of the trial and the issues. In Inherit the Wind, the Scopes character is arrested while teaching his class and remains in jail throughout the trial. In fact, he was never jailed. The ACLU in New York persuaded Scopes to volunteer to serve as defendant in a test case of the Tennessee anti-evolution law, though he had only reviewed the evolution section of the state-accredited textbook as a substitute biology teacher without actually teaching it. In the movie and play, the Bryan character vehemently protests the hundred-dollar fine which the judge levies against the teacher as too small for such a monstrous crime. In fact, Bryan opposed any penalties for violations of antievolution laws and offered to pay Scopes' fine.
However, Inherit the Wind was never intended as an accurate, factual reenactment (though many people are unaware of this). The film quite closely follows the play (which appeared on Broadway in 1955), as does the 1988 television remake. It should be noted that the playwrights, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, specifically caution that "Inherit the Wind is not history." It is literature. While conceding that it is clearly based upon the Scopes trial, they insist that the dramatic struggle between Bryan and Darrow had acquired "new dimensions and meaning" and that these dimensions are what they attempt to portray. Inherit the Wind "is not 1925," they claim. "It might have been yesterday. It could be tomorrow" (1963, p. 3). Their aim is to dramatize timeless issues which transcend the mere facts of the actual case; the fact that they change the names of all the protagonists demonstrates that this is their intention and that they are taking great liberties with actual events. In this spirit, its public school use is appropriate.
It is regrettable that many people forget that the movie version of the case is art, not a trial transcript. But creationists, including those who castigate people for accepting film fiction as fact, have been guilty of very naive myth-mongering themselves. Creationists have shown themselves to be more than willing to believe in and perpetuate serious misquotations and distortions.
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1. Perhaps as an attempt to pre-empt charges of misquotation, Bird inserted the "let the children have their minds kept open" quote (discussed later in this article) in a June 1987 mailing sent to members of the Creation Science Legal Defense Fund, correctly attributing it to Dudley Field Malone (not Darrow). Bird had by this time received a draft of this paper for comments.
Anderson, Lane. 1987. "Creation: Science or Religion?-Supreme Court Hears Debate." Issues and Answers. 9:12:3.
Bartz, Paul. 1984. "The Shocking Truth About the Scopes Trial." Contrast. 3:5:3. (Insert in Bible-Science Newsletter. 22:9.)
Bergman, Jerry. 1979. Teaching About the Creation/Evolution Controversy. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Education Foundation. ("Fastback" series No. 134.)
Bird, Wendell. 1978. "Freedom of Religion and Science Instruction in Public Schools." Yale Law Journal. 87:3:515-570.
Blakemore, Marsha. 1986. "Humiliation of Child Leads to High-Court Evolution Case." Washington Times. December 30, pp. IA, 10A.
Bliss, Richard. 1984a. A Video Guide to Origins—Two Models: Evolution-Creation. Public school edition. El Cajon, CA: Institute for Creation Research.
Eidsmoe, John. 1984. The Christian Legal Advisor. Milford, MI: Mott Media.
Geisler, Norman. 1982. The Creator in the Courtroom: "Scopes II". Milford, MI: Mott Media.
Griggs, Jolly F. 1974. "Is the Public School the Established Church?" Science and Scripture. 4:2:23-29.
Hogancamp, Kathy. 1983. "Who's Censoring You?" The Forerunner. 111:8:19-20, 23.
Hoover, A. J. 1981. The Case for Teaching Creation. Joplin, MO: College Press (Know the Truth Books).
Keith, Bill. 1982. Scopes II: The Great Debate. Shreveport, LA: Huntington House.
Kennedy, D. James. 1986. "Origins: Creation or Evolution?" Published transcript. Ft. Lauderdale, FL: Coral Ridge Ministries.
Larson, Edward. 1985. Trial and Error: The American Controversy Over Creation and Evolution. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lawrence, Jerome, and Lee, Robert E. 1963, 1951. Inherit the Wind. New York: Dramatists Play Service.
Le Clercq, Frederic. 1974. "The Monkey Laws and the Public Schools: A Second Consumption?" Vanderbilt Law Review. 27:2:209-242.
Myers, Ellen. 1984. Review of Book Burning in Creation Social Sciences and Humanities Quarterly. VI:3:22-24.
National Book Company. 1925. The World's Most Famous Court Trial. Cincinnati, OH: National Book Company.
O'Bannon, Robert. 1974. In Return to the Courthouse After Fifty Years: Proceedings of the Dayton Symposium on Tennessee's Evolution Laws, Held in the Rhea County Courthouse, Dayton, Tennessee, May 18, 1974. Published transcript.
Sachs, Elmer. 1980. Who Fathered "Mother" Nature? Bakersfield, CA: Sky Pilot Press. "Should Public Schools Teach Creation Science?" Christianity Today. 31:13:50.
Thomas, Cal. 1983. Book Burning. Westchester, IL: Crossway (Good News).
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