Law, Literature, and "Inherit The Wind"

When I lecture, I like to take a Brain Break or a moment to reflect on a particular issue being discussed. Usually, this takes the form of big idea questions, or a fact situation, or even a decision-making exercise, which the class then tackles in smaller discussion groups. So let's take a Brain Break, on this October Wednesday, through a segue from human rights to literature, and discuss Inherit The Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee (no, not the Civil War Lee who died in 1870 on this day - is this irony?).

Inherit The Wind is a dramatisation of the infamous Scopes "Monkey Trial" where the theory of evolution expounded by Darwin was "on trial" as a result of a high school biology teacher's decision to teach the theory rather than the accepted idea of biblical creationism. Clarence Darrow, one of the great trial lawyers of the era, represented the teacher and turned the trial into a reflective examination of society's tolerance for differing and controversial view-points.

In the movie version, Clarence Darrow is brilliantly played by Spencer Tracy with Frederick March as his nemesis prosecutor Matthew Brady. Completing the triumvirate, is Harry Morgan (aka Col. Sherman T. Potter - another civil war reference?) as the presiding Judge. The play is indeed, even on a surface reading, an engaging repartee between two conflicting ideals: one of freedom of expression thought, and belief and the other, freedom of religion and sacred thought. Aha, we are back to expression! A fundamental freedom at the core of our most deeply held beliefs and so many times, opposing other fundamental Charter values, such as religion and equality.

On a deeper reading, Inherit The Wind is a treasure. Written by the authors during the period of oppressive McCarthyism, the book does not just harken back to a tumoltous time of civil rights, but brings us back to the present as our Supreme Court of Canada hears argument on the Whatcott case.

Follow the SCC on Twitter as the arguments come down at #SCC or #Whatcott to formulate your own connections between the past and present.