Ive recently been enjoying Terry Teachouts excellent biography, The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken. Ive just read his account of the Scopes Trial, and was struck by a couple of passages that seem relevant to recent discussions of Ward Churchill and Larry Summers. The first comes from William Jennings Bryan, who assisted the State of Tennessee in prosecuting the case against Scopes:
A scientific soviet is attempting to dictate what is taught in our schools. It is the smallest, the most impudent, and the most tyrannical oligarchy that ever attempted to exercise arbitrary power.... If it is contended that an instructor has a right to teach anything he likes, I reply that the parents who pay the salary have a right to decide what shall be taught.
Mencken despised Bryan and just about everything he stood for, but heres what he said about the Scopes case:
No principle is at stake in Dayton[Tennessee, where the episode occurred]save the principle that school teachers, like plumbers, should stick to the job that is set for them.... The issue of free speech is quite irrelevant. When a pedagogue takes his oath of office he renounces the right to free speech as certainly as a bishop does, or a colonel in the army, or an editorial writer on a newspaper. He becomes a paid propagandist of certain definite doctrines and attitudes, mainly determined specifically and in advance, and every time he departs from them deliberately he deliberately swindles his employers.