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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

McLean v. Arkansas Documentation Project

Statement of Purpose

In 1981, a remarkable court case in Arkansas pitted creationists against pastors, priests, teachers, and scientists. "McLean et al. vs. Arkansas" sought relief from Arkansas' Act 590, which mandated that evolutionary biology instruction be balanced with "creation science". Unlike the 1925 Scopes trial in Tennessee, the Arkansas court heard testimony from a large number of witnesses on both sides of the case. Judge Overton ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and Act 590 was deemed unconstitutional. Overton's clearly written decision has been widely reprinted, and is available on the Web at several locations (see below).

However, the actual trial transcript with its documentation of the stances of the various witnesses and arguments of the attorneys is not generally available.

There are several reasons why this trial's transcript should be preserved for posterity and distributed widely. Although Arkansas did not appeal the decision, leaving the issue open at the national level, the trial and eloquent decision have influenced further cases dealing with young-earth creationist legal challenges. Indeed, just a few years later a similar measure in Louisiana was also ruled unconstitutional pre-trial (Aguillard vs. Treen), and Louisiana's final appeal before the Supreme Court failed in 1987 (follow this link to the copy of the SCOTUS decision in this case on the TalkOrigins Archive). But the Louisiana case never actually involved the testimony of expert witnesses. This leaves the testimony given in Arkansas as a unique record of the stances taken by both anti-evolutionists and their opponents.

Unfortunately this unique record is in danger. The trial was covered by two court reporters, one for each side's section of the trial. Court reporters use a shorthand recording machine to make a record of the proceedings. The use of the shorthand recording, though, may vary between court reporters. Thus, each court reporter must transcribe the recording in order to produce a transcript that can be read by others. While the plaintiff's side of the trial has been transcribed, the defense side has not. Further, time is not kind to court records. While one might expect complete record-keeping within the justice system, the sad truth is that errors happen. The plaintiff's part of the trial is already missing the testimony of Francisco Ayala. The defense part, with its interesting testimony from antievolutionists under oath, has not yet been transcribed. It is also stored out-of-state, which increases the odds that portions will have been misplaced.

The McLean v. Arkansas Documentation Project seeks to preserve and propagate this unique resource. We aim to recover as much of the trial transcript as possible at this time, and to produce an online text containing the transcript for study and reference. We also will attempt to collect and make available ancillary documents related to the trial.