The Roaring 20’s brought economic prosperity and new social norms to America. Automobiles became more affordable thanks to Henry Ford’s assembly line. The use of the airplane in World War I changed the aviation industry. Changing values saw conflicts over Prohibition, science and religion, and fear of communism surfacing after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Women became more independent and the Harlem Renaissance showcased the talents of the African American community.
Darrow believed this law violated the no establishment of religion clause of the First Amendment. He told the Tennessee court, “If today you can take a thing like evolution and make it a crime to teach it in the public school, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools… At the next session you may ban books and the newspapers… we are marching backward to the glorious ages of the sixteenth century when bigots burn[ed] the men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind.”
The most dramatic moments in the trial came on the seventh day, when Bryan volunteered to serve as a witness based on his Biblical expertise. During Darrow’s examination, Bryan acknowledged that not everything in the Bible should be taken literally, and that indeed creation may have taken place over years. Though Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution, Darrow’s arguments are considered a landmark defense of the First Amendment’s prohibition on establishment of religion.
Documents/Supreme Court Cases
By a 7-2 vote, with only Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis dissenting, the Supreme Court upheld Gitlow’s conviction. Of great significance, however, the Court, using the “incorporation” doctrine, declared that the freedom of speech and press were “among the fundamental rights and liberties protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from impairment by the states.” Nevertheless, the Court’s majority ruled that “states can punish utterances endangering the foundations of government and threatening its overthrow by unlawful means” because such speech would “present a sufficient danger to the public peace and to the security of the State.” The majority used the analogy of a smoldering campfire that could burst into flame at any time and noted that the state does not have to wait until the fire starts to take action to prevent it.
In their famous dissent, Justices Holmes and Brandeis stuck to the “clear and present danger rule” which Holmes had first enunciated in the 1919 Schenck case. They argued that what they called “the redundant discourse” in the pamphlet had “no chance of starting a present conflagration. Holmes wrote: “Every idea is an incitement. It offers itself for belief and if believed it is acted on unless some other belief outweighs it or some failure of energy stifles the movement at its birth. … If in the long run the beliefs expressed in proletarian dictatorship are destined to be accepted by the dominant forces of the community, the only meaning of free speech is that they should be given their chance and have their way.”