Epperson v. Arkansas

LOCATION: Chimel's Home

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)

CITATION: 393 US 97 (1968)
ARGUED: Oct 16, 1968
DECIDED: Nov 12, 1968

Facts of the case

The Arkansas legislature passed a law prohibiting teachers in public or state-supported schools from teaching, or using textbooks that teach, human evolution. Epperson, a public school teacher, sued, claiming the law violated her First Amendment right to free speech as well as the Establishment Clause. The State Chancery Court ruled that it violated her free speech rights; the State Supreme Court reversed.


Does a law forbidding the teaching of evolution violate either the free speech rights of teachers or the Establishment clause of the First Amendment?

Media for Epperson v. Arkansas

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 16, 1968 in Epperson v. Arkansas

Earl Warren:

Number 7, Susan Epperson Et Al, Dallas versus Arkansas.

Mr. Warren.

Eugene R. Warren:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case involves the constitutionality of the Arkansas anti-evolution law.

Mrs. Susan Epperson, a teacher an H.H. Blanchard, the father of two would be learners challenged the constitutionality of the Initiated Act number 1 of 1926, which was the so-called monkey bill of the anti-evolution law.

A challenge was based upon the contention that the Act violated and collided with the First Amendment freedoms to freedom of speech, the freedom to teach and to learn, the freedom and the question of freedom of religion, the question of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

We have briefed these points as well as we possibly can.

We have the benefit of supporting briefs of amicus to excellent briefs and I shall not burden or impose upon the time of the patient of this Court to argue to any great extent the question of the First Amendment Freedom is what I would like to discuss with emphasis -- greater emphasis that in our brief, the question of the vagueness of the Act that is the failure of the Act to meet the permissible statutory vagueness of the Due Process Clause.

From the time that this Act was enacted or adopted, teachers were in Arkansas were in -- have been and are genuinely confused and concerned, uncertain as to whether or not the language of the Act which forbid the teacher to teach the theory or doctrine that man ascended or descended from a lower form of animals.

Whether that language forbid the teacher to discuss the matter or permit the theory or permit a classroom from discussion of the theory or whether the actual meaning of the Act was that the teacher could not teach that the theory was -- had been established or it was true.

Now, at the time of the trial of this case and the lower court, the plaintiff Mrs. Epperson testified that she did not wish to teach that the theory was true but simply to explain it because it was contained in a chapter in the Biology of book that had been furnished to her by the Local School District.

May I say that in my -- as I understand it, there is simply is no Biology textbook that does not have some references or some explanation of the theory of the evolution of man.

Judge Reed, the trial judge committed on the question of whether or not the language of the Act permitted a discussion of the Act of whether it forbid the teaching of the, that the theory was true.

We devoted 12 pages in our brief and the Arkansas Supreme Court to a discussion of statutory vagueness under the Due Process Clause.

It -- the Supreme Court of Arkansas in a two line opinion, memorandum opinion held that this was a proper exercise or valid exercise, this Act was a valid exercise of the power of state to control the curriculum of the schools.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Mr. Warren may I ask?

Eugene R. Warren:

Yes sir.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Would you be taking the same position under the First Amendment if these statute --

Eugene R. Warren:


William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Which as I -- as I read it, it says that it's unlawful to teach in any University college, normal public schools and so forth.

If instead it had just said that it would be unlawful to teach children in Grades, primary grades one through six.

Would you take the same position on the first term?

Eugene R. Warren:

I would take the same position but not quite as strongly.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

I don't understand.

Eugene R. Warren:

Well, I think that the case of the Bartels, an Iowa case where the -- that was the Iowa case and the Nebraska case, Meyer case that those statute prohibiting the teaching of German only applied to the elementary schools and this Court in those two cases struck down those axe under the Due Process Clause.

Byron R. White:

But those were private schools?

Eugene R. Warren:

The -- in Meyer case was a public school.

Byron R. White:

Well, that's right, my --

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

But you're familiar, I don't know that you cited it with -- old decisions in the obscenity area, for example in the Ginsburg case of last term and the --

Eugene R. Warren: