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Statue Of Scopes Trial Lawyer Sparks Debate In Tennessee


William Jennings Bryan prosecuted John Scopes for teaching evolution more than 90 years ago. The courthouse where that trial happened still brings tourists to Dayton, Tenn. Later this week, there will be something new to see there. A group of atheists and agnostics will unveil a monument to honor the defense attorney in the case. From member station WUTC, Michael Edward Miller reports.

MICHAEL EDWARD MILLER, BYLINE: The trial is part of Kirby Garrison's family lore.

KIRBY GARRISON: That was my great-grandparents' first date - going to the trial. The Monkey Trial is what they called it.

MILLER: Garrison co-owns Monkey Town Brewing Company, a brewpub and pool hall near the courthouse. Evolution IPA is on tap. Photos of the trial's famous attorneys hang on a wall.

GARRISON: Two powerhouses - it was William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow kind of duking it out, idea fighting idea.

MILLER: Bryan was an influential Christian crusader. Darrow was a famous attorney who championed science and secularism. He unsuccessfully represented high school science teacher John Scopes who was on trial for violating Tennessee's ban on teaching evolution.


MILLER: A train passes the historic courthouse where Bryan stands on the lawn, cast in bronze. The statue was commissioned by Bryan College, a local evangelical institute founded in his honor.

BILL HOLLIN: I'd hate to think what our size would be and what we would be today if we hadn't had Bryan College to help us grow.

MILLER: Bill Hollin is a county commissioner. He says Bryan's legacy looms large. But a $150,000 statue of his rival is about to be installed on the courthouse lawn, mostly funded by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Philadelphia sculptor Zenos Frudakis created the Clarence Darrow statue.

ZENOS FRUDAKIS: It'll get people thinking and talking. And it's just more historically balanced and accurate that way to have him there.

MILLER: Some locals disagree. They're also unhappy the Freedom From Religion Foundation has worked to stop Bible distributions in public schools and now is putting up this statue. But Rachel Held Evans thinks most people here don't view it as an imposition. She's a best-selling Christian author who wrote a memoir about her faith evolving in Monkey Town.

RACHEL HELD EVANS: I'm a Christian who believes in evolution, and those two things can exist together.

MILLER: Each year, the annual Scopes Trial Festival keeps tourists coming to town. On Friday when they visit the historic courthouse, they'll see the trial's two rivals reunited in bronze. For NPR News, I'm Michael Edward Miller in Dayton, Tenn.


Michael Miller