Representing The Baltimore Sun, H.L. Mencken was passionately involved in the proceedings of the trial. His newspaper even sponsored some of the expenses of the defense team. Mencken believed that the jury was biased in favor of the prosecution. He puts it humorously by calling the jury “unanimously hot for Genesis”. (Conkin, 1998, p.185) Hence, Mencken served a role far greater than that of mere journalism, for instead of taking a neutral viewpoint he sided with the underdogs in the trial, namely the Scopes team. But his leanings were motivated by his earnest convictions and thoughtful conclusions about the debate. He clearly foresaw the stifling effects of creationism and its associated Christian dogma upon a scientific understanding of our origins. (Conkin, 1998, p.185)
Inspired by the merits he saw in Charles Darwin’s Evolution through the Theory of Natural Selection, Mencken believed that he was serving the interests of the general public by supporting critical inquiry in the classroom. Mencken has a valid point in asserting that personal religious beliefs should have no place in the education system, which should be a free and open place for rational enquiry. The dangers of fundamentalism perceived by Mencken are not out of place, for a brief look into the history of Western Civilization would reveal religious motivations behind some of the most brutal wars. Hence he believed that social divisions on religious lines as well as intolerance towards minorities and non-believers can lead to disastrous outcomes. This assessment was most shockingly proven correct by the Holocaust of the Second World War where the Roman Catholic Church supported Nazi government nearly wiped out the Jewish population of Europe. The escalating tension between America and its allies on one side and the Islamic fundamentalists on the other side in the ongoing War on Terror operations augurs badly.
Hence, in conclusion, one only needs to look at human history to understand Mencken’s genuine concern for the dangers posed by religious fundamentalism. Since our education system has the power to create and nourish healthy minds that are free of bigotry and prejudice, it is essential that the classroom atmosphere be free and critical debate is encouraged. The abolishing of legal restrictions with respect to teaching evolution will be a good starting point.
Examination of Bryan by Clarence Darrow before Judge John T. Raulston and the eulogy for Bryan by H.L. Mencken., America Firsthand Vol II, eighth edition. Authors: Robert Marcus, David Burner and Anthony 2010 pg 148-169.
Conkin, Paul K. (1998), When All the Gods Trembled: Darwinism, Scopes, and American Intellectuals, pp. 185 pp.,ISBN 0847690636
Scopes, John, The World’s Most Famous Court Trial, State of Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes: Complete Stenographic Report of the Court, ISBN 0-306-71975-4