Drifting on the fringes of somnolence last night, a late night movie was both my companion and antagonist. Sleep was desirous, it was 2:30 AM, but the film's appeal was strong. In the end, the film held me hostage until the obvious absence of credits gave way to an acappella voice singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
Its title borrowed from the biblical scripture above, Inherit The Wind by anyone's standards, is a superb movie. Anyone who has seen it can easily understand why it has a lofty ranking among the greatest films of all time. Those who have never seen it, should consider correcting that mistake by adding it to their 'must-see' list of movies.
Inherit the Wind, based on a 1955 stage play by the same name, was released in 1960. It was an allegorical film based on the famous 1925 Scopes Monkey trial which pitted the teachings of the Bible's creationism against the theory of Evolution.
Although the names of those involved in the original trial were changed, there can be no question as to whom each member of the stellar cast portrayed. Spencer Tracy's Henry Drummond, Frederick March's Matthew Harrison Brady, Dick York's Bertram Cates, and Gene Kelly's E.K. Hornbeck, represented respectively Clarence Darrow, William Jennings Bryan, John Scopes, and H.L. Mencken.
As in the actual trial, the judge ruled against the teacher finding him guilty of illegally teaching evolution and fined him $100. The ruling was appealed and the case went before the Supreme Court only to have the charges dismissed.
I have seen that film several times over the years. Only after watching the court room scenes of it before finally falling to sleep last night, did I actually realize how laws and religious beliefs are still clashing to this day. However, it's not the intrusion of science upon religious sanctity that is in the news.
It is cruel irony that our right to the freedom of worship is being twisted and manipulated until that very "right," in and of itself, is being used to deny the rights of others. Somehow, our right to freely worship, as guaranteed by our Constitution, is also being interpreted to mean that others who have different beliefs now have the right to challenge our beliefs.
To what end? Prayer has been wrested from our schools. "The Pledge of Allegiance" has all but been outlawed because it contains the word "God." The patriotic songs, "God Bless America" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" are under siege because they too make reference to "God." How dare us use currency that expounds, In God We Trust !
The modern legal concept of religious freedom as the union of freedom of belief and freedom of worship with the absence of any state-sponsored religion, originated in the United States of America with the First Amendment which provided for the separation of church and state.
This issue was addressed by Thomas Paine in his pamphlet, Common Sense (1776):
"As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of all government, to protect all conscientious professors thereof, and I know of no other business which government hath to do therewith…"The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was written in 1779 by Thomas Jefferson. It proclaimed:
"No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."I have read the two statements above, which would serve as the basis for the First Amendment, and in neither "Common Sense" nor in the First Amendment is there even a hint that any one person or group can deny another person or group to their own beliefs.
It is the duty of our courts to uphold the laws of the land, in particular the Constitution. It is not their charge to interpret or to adjudicate otherwise. Our laws allow people to practice atheism if they believe in no god. We are free to pursue faith as Catholics, Baptists, Episcopalians, Adventists, and yes, to also practice Islamic and Buddhist faiths. However, no where is it written or implied that any member of any faith can dictate the beliefs of others.
Funny, I never took the word "God" to mean a specific god, and therefore an affront to anyone who worships a different god. After all, aren't Allah and Buddha, for example, gods also?
I fear that the message of Inherit The Wind has been lost. The venue has changed, we are not in a court of law, but rather we arguing our cases in a court of life. This time around it appears that the 'Matthew Harrison Bradys/William Jennings Bryans' of the world are winning. We need the 'Henry Drummonds/Clarence Darrows' to balance the scales suspended from the hands of blind justice that have been tipped precariously toward injustice by ... the winds of unrest.