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Epperson v. Arkansas

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Significance: The Supreme Court found laws banning the teaching of evolution to be an unconstitutional establishment of religion.


The Supreme Court unanimously overturned an Arkansas supreme court ruling that upheld Arkansas “Monkey Law” statutes banning the teaching of evolution in public elementary schools, secondary schools, and universities. The Court held that Arkansas violated the freedom of religion mandate of the First Amendment as applied to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment under the incorporation doctrine. Justice Abe Fortas wrote the majority opinion, with Justices John M. Harlan II and Hugo L. Black concurring. In 1982 Arkansas responded by passing a new law that required all public schools to “balance” any teaching of evolution with the teaching of creation by a “supreme power.” This was declared unconstitutional in a federal district court in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education (1982). This case was very similar to one covering a Louisiana policy later declared unconstitutional by the Court in a 7-2 decision in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987).