During the 1925 trial challenging the teaching of evolution in a Tennessee high school, the journalist H.L. Mencken decried the mix of ignorance and moral righteousness of those who sought to punish science teacher John Scopes. Their “mystical confidence” in the case, wrote Mencken, “serves notice on the country that Neanderthal man is organizing. . . rid of sense and devoid of conscience.”
Fast forward to today’s Tennessee, and “Neanderthal man” has a new target: Islamic law. Right-wing blogs and talk radio inflame listeners with conspiracy theories about supposed efforts to impose sharia law in the United States, and a few unscrupulous politicians, following in the tradition of Scopes’ persecutors, are ready to exploit those fears.