Epperson v. Arkansas, No. 7

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtFORTAS
Citation21 L.Ed.2d 228,393 U.S. 97,89 S.Ct. 266
PartiesSusan EPPERSON et al., Appellants, v. ARKANSAS
Decision Date12 November 1968
Docket NumberNo. 7

393 U.S. 97
89 S.Ct. 266
21 L.Ed.2d 228
Susan EPPERSON et al., Appellants,

v.

ARKANSAS.

No. 7.
Argued Oct. 16, 1968.
Decided Nov. 12, 1968.

Page 98

Eugene R. Warren, Little Rock, Ark., for appellants.

Don Langston, Little Rock, Ark., for appellee.

Mr. Justice FORTAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

I.

This appeal challenges the constitutionality of the 'anti-evolution' statute which the State of Arkansas adopted in 1928 to prohibit the teaching in its public schools and universities of the theory that man evolved from other species of life. The statute was a product of the upsurge of 'fundamentalist' religious fervor of the twenties. The Arkansas statute was an adaption of the famous Tennessee 'monkey law' which that State adopted in 1925.1 The constitutionality of the Tennessee law was upheld by the Tennessee Supreme Court in the celebrated Scopes case in 1927.2

The Arkansas law makes it unlawful for a teacher in any state-supported school or university 'to teach the

Page 99

theory or doctrine that mankind ascended or descended from a lower order of animals,' or 'to adopt or use in any such institution a textbook that teaches' this theory. Violation is a misdemeanor and subjects the violator to dismissal from his position.3

The present case concerns the teaching of biology in a high school in Little Rock. According to the testimony, until the events here in litigation, the official textbook furnished for the high school biology course did not have a section on the Darwinian Theory. Then, for the academic year 1965—1966, the school administration, on recommendation of the teachers of biology in the school system, adopted and prescribed a textbook which contained a chapter setting forth 'the theory about the origin * * * of man from a lower form of animal.'

Page 100

Susan Epperson, a young woman who graduated from Arkansas' school system and then obtained her master's degree in zoology at the University of Illinois, was employed by the Little Rock school system in the fall of 1964 to teach 10th grade biology at Central High School. At the start of the next academic year, 1965, she was confronted by the new textbook (which one surmises from the record was not unwelcome to her). She faced at least a literal dilemma because she was supposed to use the new textbook for classroom instruction and presumably to teach the statutorily condemned chapter; but to do so would be a criminal offense and subject her to dismissal.

She instituted the present action in the Chancery Court of the State, seeking a declaration that the Arkansas statute is void and enjoining the State and the defendant officials of the Little Rock school system from dismissing her for violation of the statute's provisions. H. H. Blanchard, a parent of children attending the public schools, intervened in support of the action.

The Chancery Court, in an opinion by Chancellor Murray O. Reed, held that the statute violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. 4 The court noted that this Amendment encompasses the prohibitions upon state interference with freedom of speech and thought which are contained in the First Amendment. Accordingly, it held that the challenged statute is unconstitutional because, in violation of the First Amendment, it 'tends to hinder the quest for knowledge, restrict the freedom to learn, and restrain the freedom to teach.'5 In this perspective, the Act,

Page 101

it held, was an unconstitutional and void restraint upon the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Arkansas reversed.6 Its two-sentence opinion is set forth in the margin.7 It sustained the statute as an exercise of the State's power to specify the curriculum in public schools. It did not address itself to the competing constitutional considerations.

Appeal was duly prosecuted to this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1257(2). Only Arkansas and Mississippi have such 'anti-evolution' or 'monkey' laws on their books.8 There is no record of any prosecutions in Arkan-

Page 102

sas under its statute. It is possible that the statute is presently more of a curiosity than a vital fact of life in these States.9 Nevertheless, the present case was brought, the appeal as of right is properly here, and it is our duty to decide the issues presented.

II.

At the outset, it is urged upon us that the challenged statute is vague and uncertain and therefore within the condemnation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The contention that the Act is vague and uncertain is supported by language in the brief opinion of Arkansas' Supreme Court. That court, perhaps reflecting the discomfort which the statute's quixotic prohibition necessarily engenders in the modern mind,10 stated that it 'expressed no opinion' as to whether the Act prohibits 'explanation' of the theory of evolution or merely forbids 'teaching that the theory is true.' Regardless of this uncertainty, the court held that the statute is constitutional.

On the other hand, counsel for the State, in oral argument in this Court, candidly stated that, despite the State Supreme Court's equivocation, Arkansas would interpret the statute 'to mean that to make a student aware of the theory * * * just to teach that there was

Page 103

such a theory' would be grounds for dismissal and for prosecution under the statute; and he said 'that the Supreme Court of Arkansas' opinion should be interpreted in that manner.' He said: 'If Mrs. Epperson would tell her students that 'Here is Darwin's theory, that man ascended or descended from a lower form of being,' then I think she would be under this statute liable for prosecution.'

In any event, we do not rest our decision upon the asserted vagueness of the statute. On either interpretation of its language, Arkansas' statute cannot stand. It is of no moment whether the law is deemed to prohibit mention of Darwin's theory, or to forbid any or all of the infinite varieties of communication embraced within the term 'teaching.' Under either interpretation, the law must be stricken because of its conflict with the constitutional prohibition of state laws respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The overriding fact is that Arkansas' law selects from the body of knowledge a particular segment which it proscribes for the sole reason that it is deemed to conflict with a particular religious doctrine; that is, with a particular interpretation of the Book of Genesis by a particular religious group.11

III.

The antecedents of today's decision are many and unmistakable. They are rooted in the foundation soil of our Nation. They are fundamental to freedom.

Government in our democracy, state and national, must be neutral in matters of religious theory, doctrine,

Page 104

and practice. It may not be hostile to any religion or to the advocacy of noreligion; and it may not aid, foster, or promote one religion or religious theory against another or even against the militant opposite. The First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.12

As early as 1872, this Court said: 'The law knows no heresy, and is committed to the support of no dogma, the establishment of no sect.' Watson v. Jones, 13 Wall. 679, 728, 20 L.Ed. 666. This has been the interpretation of the great First Amendment which this Court has applied in the many and subtle problems which the ferment of our national life has presented for decision within the Amendment's broad command.

Judicial interposition in the operation of the public school system of the Nation raises problems requiring care and restraint. Our courts, however, have not failed to apply the First Amendment's mandate in our educational system where essential to safeguard the fundamental values of freedom of speech and inquiry and of belief. By and large, public education in our Nation is committed to the control of state and local authorities. Courts do not and cannot intervene in the resolution of conflicts which arise in the daily operation of school systems and which do not directly and sharply implicate basic constitutional values.13 On the other hand, '(t)he vigilant protection of constitutional freedoms is nowhere more vital than in the community of American schools,' Shelton v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479, 487, 81 S.Ct. 247, 251, 5 L.Ed.2d 231 (1960). As this

Page 105

Court said in Keyishian v. Board of Regents, the First Amendment 'does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom.' 385 U.S. 589, 603, 87 S.Ct. 675, 683, 17 L.Ed.2d 629 (1967).

The earliest cases in this Court on the subject of the impact of constitutional guarantees upon the classroom were decided before the Court expressly applied the specific prohibitions of the First Amendment to the States. But as early as 1923, the Court did not hesitate to condemn under the Due Process Clause 'arbitrary' restrictions upon the freedom of teachers to teach and of students to learn. In that year, the Court, in an opinion by Justice McReynolds, held unconstitutional an Act of the State of Nebraska making it a crime to teach any subject in any language other than English to pupils who had not passed the eighth grade.14 The State's purpose in enacting the law was to promote civic cohesiveness by encouraging the learning of English and to combat the 'baneful effect' of permitting foreigners to near and educate their children in the language of the parents' native land. The Court recognized these purposes, and it acknowledged the State's power to prescribe the school curriculum, but it held that these were not adequate to support the restriction upon the liberty of teacher and pupil. The challenged statute it held, unconstitutionally interfered with the right of the individual, guaranteed by the Due Process Clause, to engage in any of the common occupations of life...

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826 practice notes
  • Woodring v. Jackson Cnty., No. 20-1881
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • February 2, 2021
    ..." McCreary Cnty., Ky. v. ACLU of Ky. , 545 U.S. 844, 860, 125 S.Ct. 2722, 162 L.Ed.2d 729 (2005) (quoting Epperson v. State of Ark. , 393 U.S. 97, 104, 89 S.Ct. 266, 21 L.Ed.2d 228 (1968) ).The Supreme Court has developed several tests to help apply the general command of the Establishment ......
  • Carson v. Makin, No. 19-1746
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • October 29, 2020
    ...one. See, e.g., Sch. Dist. of Abington v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 226, 83 S.Ct. 1560, 10 L.Ed.2d 844 (1963) ; Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 106-07, 89 S.Ct. 266, 21 L.Ed.2d 228 (1968).Putting these two points together, we conclude that, given the baseline that Maine has set through the ......
  • Mancuso v. Taft, No. 72-1180.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit
    • March 20, 1973
    ...as to subsection (f) is a very close question. Laird v. Tatum, 408 U.S. 1, 92 S.Ct. 2318, 33 L.Ed.2d 154 (1972); Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 89 S.Ct. 266, 21 L.Ed.2d 228 (1968); Baggett v. Bullitt, 377 U.S. 360, 84 S.Ct. 1316, 12 L.Ed.2d 377 (1964). However, another factor has made i......
  • American Civil Liberties Union, Ky. v. Grayson Co., No. 08-5548.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • January 14, 2010
    ...and nonreligion." McCreary County v. ACLU, 545 U.S. 844, 860, 125 S.Ct. 2722, 162 L.Ed.2d 729 (2005) (quoting Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 104, 89 S.Ct. 266, 21 L.Ed.2d 228 (1968)). Neutrality, however, "is not so narrow a channel that the slightest deviation from an absolutely straig......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
824 cases
  • Woodring v. Jackson Cnty., No. 20-1881
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • February 2, 2021
    ..." McCreary Cnty., Ky. v. ACLU of Ky. , 545 U.S. 844, 860, 125 S.Ct. 2722, 162 L.Ed.2d 729 (2005) (quoting Epperson v. State of Ark. , 393 U.S. 97, 104, 89 S.Ct. 266, 21 L.Ed.2d 228 (1968) ).The Supreme Court has developed several tests to help apply the general command of the Establishment ......
  • Carson v. Makin, No. 19-1746
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • October 29, 2020
    ...one. See, e.g., Sch. Dist. of Abington v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 226, 83 S.Ct. 1560, 10 L.Ed.2d 844 (1963) ; Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 106-07, 89 S.Ct. 266, 21 L.Ed.2d 228 (1968).Putting these two points together, we conclude that, given the baseline that Maine has set through the ......
  • Mancuso v. Taft, No. 72-1180.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit
    • March 20, 1973
    ...as to subsection (f) is a very close question. Laird v. Tatum, 408 U.S. 1, 92 S.Ct. 2318, 33 L.Ed.2d 154 (1972); Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 89 S.Ct. 266, 21 L.Ed.2d 228 (1968); Baggett v. Bullitt, 377 U.S. 360, 84 S.Ct. 1316, 12 L.Ed.2d 377 (1964). However, another factor has made i......
  • American Civil Liberties Union, Ky. v. Grayson Co., No. 08-5548.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • January 14, 2010
    ...and nonreligion." McCreary County v. ACLU, 545 U.S. 844, 860, 125 S.Ct. 2722, 162 L.Ed.2d 729 (2005) (quoting Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 104, 89 S.Ct. 266, 21 L.Ed.2d 228 (1968)). Neutrality, however, "is not so narrow a channel that the slightest deviation from an absolutely straig......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
5 books & journal articles
  • ESTABLISHMENT'S POLITICAL PRIORITY TO FREE EXERCISE.
    • United States
    • Notre Dame Law Review Vol. 97 Nbr. 2, January 2022
    • January 1, 2022
    ...U.S. 38 (1985); Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 (1992); Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290 (2000). (96) Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97 (1968); Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (97) Steven. D. Smith, Why School Prayer Matters 3 (San Diego Legal Studies, Paper No. 20-447, 2020)......
  • Schoolhouse Property.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 131 Nbr. 5, March 2022
    • March 1, 2022
    ...By and large, public education in our Nation is committed to the control of state and local authorities." (quoting Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97,104 (195.) Id. at 579 (emphasis added). (196.) See, e.g., Goldbergv. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 266-71 (1970); Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. Loudermill,......
  • Proceduralize Student Speech.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 131 Nbr. 6, April 2022
    • April 1, 2022
    ...Nairn, supra note 35, at 249-51; Anne C. Dailey, Developing Citizens, 91 IOWA L. REV. 431, 451-52 (2006). (104.) See Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 104 (1968) ("Courts do not and cannot intervene in the resolution of conflicts which arise in the daily operation of school systems and whi......
  • GOSS V. LOPEZ AS A VEHICLE TO EXAMINE DUE PROCESS PROTECTION ISSUES WITH ALTERNATIVE SCHOOLS.
    • United States
    • William and Mary Law Review Vol. 63 Nbr. 6, May 2022
    • May 1, 2022
    ...operation of school systems and which do not directly and sharply implicate basic constitutional values." (quoting Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 104 (168.) See id. at 589-90. (169.) See id. at 579 (majority opinion) (accomplishing this goal for suspensions and expulsions). (170.) See i......
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