Freethought Today · August 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Darrow takes rightful place at courthouse By PJ Slinger

By PJ Slinger

Clarence Darrow was a larger-than-life attorney. Now, finally, the legendary lawyer has a larger-than-life statue honoring him for his part in the famous Scopes Trial in 1925 in Dayton, Tenn.

Thanks to FFRF, a 7-foot-tall statue of the litigator by sculptor Zenos Frudakis was installed on the Rhea County Courthouse grounds, opposite a similar statue of William Jennings Bryan, the prosecuting attorney in the famous "monkey trial."

The installation of the venerable statue received significant press coverage, including a large spread in The New York Times.

"We're dedicating this magnificent statue to history," FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said. "The monument is a tribute to a civil libertarian and freethinker who fought for science and rationality — to have them prevail for all time to come."

In July of 1925, the courthouse was the site of the trial of Dayton High School teacher John T. Scopes, who was charged with violating state law by teaching evolution. Scopes, who was defended by Darrow, was convicted and fined $100. However, the decision was ultimately reversed in 1927 by the Tennessee Supreme Court because of a technicality — the judge set the fine, not the jury.

The statue of Bryan, given to the county by the Bryan College in 2005, inspired Frudakis, FFRF and others to seek to remedy the "missing link." Frudakis is a renowned American sculptor who has created an extensive, award-winning collection of more than 100 bronze sculptures in public and private collections. FFRF contributed the costs for the $150,000 project.

"Memorializing Darrow alongside the existing Bryan statue will now at least balance the views inherent in the trial, and accurately reflect history, a well as symbolically recreate the court drama which captured the attention of our nation," Frudakis told the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The dedication ceremony included actor John de Lancie, who played "Q" in "Star Trek: The Next Generation," and has portrayed Darrow in a play. Also speaking was Andrew Kersten, author of the 2011 biography, Clarence Darrow: American Iconoclast (see page 15). Margaret Downey with the Freethought Society was the emcee.

"We're thrilled to be working with an internationally known sculptor in making this gift, not just to Rhea County and its historic courthouse, but to posterity," Gaylor said. "This magnificent statue of Darrow will enhance Rhea County's history, and be a draw for generations to come."

FFRF held a Darrow Celebration on July 13 at the Chattanoogan Hotel in Chattanooga, Tenn., with speakers Frudakis, Kersten and William Dusenberry. Fred Edwords of the American Humanist Association, which helped locate a sculptor for the project, also spoke. FFRF State Representative Margaret Downey recounted the inside story behind town opposition.

During the unveiling ceremony, de Lancie spoke eloquently about the meaning of the Darrow statue on the courthouse grounds.

"It's fitting that Bryan and now Darrow are back in the town that made them famous," he told the crowd. "In the world of the religious versus the secular, this is ground zero, the epicenter. I think it's been a little boring for Mr. Bryan to have been standing there all alone among only those who share his views. That's going to change now."

But not everyone is enamored with having a replica of Darrow on the courthouse lawn.

The New York Times writer Richard Fausset reports that at a County Commission meeting in Dayton recently, resident "Ruth Ann Wilson suggested that the statue might unleash a local plague or a curse."

"I rise in opposition to this atheist statue, all right?" she said at the meeting. "This is very serious, folks."

Local Religious Right activist June Griffin said the statue "doesn't belong there" and considers the courthouse grounds "sacred territory." Griffin, 77, was "once lampooned by 'The Daily Show' for her creationist beliefs," The New York Times reported. "She was instrumental in arranging a July 1 anti-Darrow rally at the courthouse that included state Sen. Mae Beavers, a Republican candidate for governor, and Larry Tomczak, a public policy adviser to the conservative Liberty Counsel. "He described the gathering as a protest against the 'ongoing attempt by secularists in America to blur or remove symbols reminding us of our Judeo-Christian heritage.'"

Griffin even predicted that "the statue would not last long in the heart of the Bible Belt," Fausset writes.

"There are a bunch of people back on the mountain, you don't know what they're going to do," Griffin told Fausset. "But I'm just going to leave them to their devices."

FFRF, Downey and Rosalie Frudakis took pains to ensure law enforcement came out in full force, after Griffin posted a photograph of herself with a shotgun, quoting bible verses about executing "heathens."

Despite the threats, the event went off without a hitch, other than the one where the covering of the statue got hooked on Darrow's tuft of hair during the unveiling.

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