POLL: Should Rhea County have a Clarence Darrow statue at the courthouse?
DAYTON, Tenn. — Clarence Darrow probably could not have drawn a more passionate opponent in post-William Jennings Bryan- era Dayton than June Griffin, a longtime activist who fought to post the Ten Commandments in 88 of Tennessee's 95 county courthouses.
Griffin, 78, is no stranger to controversy or the spotlight, and she sees this as a battle between good and evil.
On July 14, a statue of Darrow by Pennsylvania sculptor Zenos Frudakis will be dedicated on the Rhea County Courthouse lawn. It will stand opposite a statue of Bryan, his 1925 Scopes "Monkey" Trial nemesis, erected in 2005.
Dayton is the site of the famous trial in which a teacher was prosecuted for teaching evolution in Tennessee schools. Bryan prosecuted John T. Scopes, and Darrow defended the teacher. The town holds an annual festival dedicated to the event that became a spectacle followed around the world.
The Darrow statue project was paid for in part from money raised by the American Humanist Association, a nontheistic organization that strives "to bring about a progressive society where being good without a god is an accepted and respected way to live life," according to its website. Officials said the association itself did not provide funding, but collected it under its tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization.
Griffin, a pastor of the American Bible Protestant Church, vehemently objects to Darrow's presence at the courthouse in any form.
"I oppose it because it doesn't belong there. That is sacred territory, where people from all over the world came to see these idiots that didn't believe that God created the world and man," Griffin said last week at her store in North Dayton. "They came from Oklahoma, Texas, in wagons. They traveled to see such a strange creature that would not believe the Bible."
In a statement, Humanist Association Executive Director Roy Speckhardt said Darrow's "contributions to science education [have] left a lasting legacy to the American people."
"By honoring him with a statue outside the Rhea County Courthouse next to the statue of William Jennings Bryan, we hope to show a more complete and balanced perspective on the trial that also respects Darrow's memory," Speckhardt said.
Griffin said if Rhea Countians had a chance to vote on the statue and voted yes, she'd accede to the will of the people.
Until then she wants to debate Darrow supporters publicly, face to face, she said.
"No lawyers," she said, "only personal confrontation. Engage them in the debate right there."
If not that, she said, the humanists should have to defend themselves in court, without lawyers, who she says feed on taxpayer money and have no concern for people's rights.
And barring that, Griffin suggests the association form its own militia.
"If worst comes to worst, I will challenge them to meet us in their uniforms at King's Mountain, just like John Sevier did, and we'll settle it over there," Griffin said. During the American Revolutionary War, Sevier led patriots to battle against loyalist militias in South Carolina.
Humanist association officials said via email they would review the claims of any lawsuit Griffin brought. Regarding Griffin's suggested militia face-off at King's Mountain, spokeswoman Maggie Ardiente said, "We find it deeply disturbing that Ms. Griffin would resort to violence to resolve this matter."
"We doubt that Ms. Griffin's suit would have much, if any, valid legal grounding. Until she files formally in court, we expect plans to erect the statue to move forward," Ardiente said.
Clarence Darrow was a central figure in the Scopes trial, she said.
"There would be no trial without both Darrow and William Jennings Bryan. Including a statue of him is historically accurate and the right thing to do," Ardiente said.
The situation is unusual for the association.
"We've never seen plans to erect a valid historical statue attacked," Ardiente said.
She said the Darrow statue is intended to portray an "accurate historical representation" for Rhea County residents and underline "the importance of science education in our public schools."
The statue plan was approved and supported locally, according to Rosalie Frudakis, business partner of the Darrow statue sculptor.
"Approvals were granted by county officials, local officials and the [Rhea County] Historical [and Genealogical] Society," she said, adding that she also appreciated the support of the association.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569.