The Speech Which Was Never Delivered

William Jennings Bryan’s last speech (never delivered) for the Scopes’ Monkey Trial in 1925 was reprinted the next year as a pamphlet: a tool for believers to combat what they perceived to be a cultural threat — the theory of evolution. He deemed it “the most powerful argument against evolution ever made.”

Reprinted in Skeptic:

Bryans-last-speech-cover Let us now separate the issues from the misrepresentations, intentional and unintentional, that have obscured both the letter and the purpose of the law.

This is not an interference with freedom of conscience. A teacher can think as he pleases and worship God as he likes, or refuse to worship God at all. He can believe in the Bible or discard it; he can accept Christ or reject him. This law places no objections or restraints upon him. And so with freedom of speech, he can, so long as he acts as an individual, say anything he likes on any subject.

This law does not violate any rights guaranteed by any constitution to any individual. It deals with the defendant, not as an individual, but as an employee, an official or public servant, paid by the state, and therefore under instructions from the state.

The right of the state to control the public schools is affirmed in the recent decision in the Oregon case, which declares that the state can direct what shall be taught and also forbid the teaching of anything “manifestly inimical to the public welfare.” The above decision goes even farther and declares that the parent not only has the right to guard the religious welfare of the child, but is in duty bound to guard it. That decision fits this case exactly. The state had a right to pass this law, and the law represents the determination of the parents to guard the religious welfare of their children.

It need hardly be added that this law did not have its origin in bigotry. It is not trying to force any form of religion on anybody. The majority is not trying to establish a religion or to teach it — it is trying to protect itself from the efforts of an insolent minority to force irreligion upon the children under the guise of teaching science.

More here.