The scene opens with the trial, which is the jury-summoning phase. The Judge is seated before the court: Brady sits with Davenport and Drummond sits with Cates. Rachel sits nervously in the courtroom, and Hornbeck is perched on a ledge, observing all. Davenport asks a potential juror, a townsman named Bannister, if he attends church—Bannister answers that he “only” goes on Sundays. Davenport says he accepts the man as a juror.
The jury selection process is not dissimilar from selecting teams in softball—both the prosecution and defense have the chance to accept or reject a certain number of jurors, and these objections need only be “reasonable”—they also do not need to be motivated by any strict legal principles, so long as they are not overtly prejudicial.
Drummond then questions Bannister, asking if Bannister has read Darwin or the Bible. Bannister answers that he cannot read, and Drummond, smirking, says this works for him—he agrees to have Bannister on the jury, and the Judge permits Bannister to enter the jury-box.
Drummond, like Hornbeck, recognizes the irony in the fact that a good part of Hillsboro, despite being Christian, has not read Darwin, and has not even read the Bible from which the story of Creation is taken.
Brady moves, to the Judge, to ask if men in the court can take off their jackets, since it is so hot; the Judge agrees. Brady jokes with Drummond about Drummond’s “city” fashion, and Drummond jokes back with Brady, who is affronted that someone would steal the spotlight from him, and perhaps appear funnier or more entertaining than him in front of the crowd. The trial recommences.
Here is the first indicator that Drummond’s humor will not be totally ill-received in the courtroom. Brady had assumed that he had his audience “in the bag,” and so seems to sense in this scene that the crowd might not go uniformly in his direction throughout the trial.
Another townsman, Dunlap, is accepted by Davenport as a juror (Dunlap says he believes in God and trusts in Brady); Drummond, however, does not accept Dunlap, implying that all jurors seem to be practicing and fervent Christians, and that no other viewpoints are represented among the jurors.
Drummond wonders whether a fair trial is even possible in Hillsboro, if almost all the townspeople are practicing Christians who worship Brady and who believe that the teaching of evolution is inherently immoral.
When Brady is referred to by the Judge and others as Colonel, Drummond again objects, stating that it is prejudicial that Brady was given an honorary title as he entered the town. The Mayor, confused and upset at what to do, agrees to grant Drummond temporary Honorary Colonel status, and Drummond, smugly, and apparently making light of these meaningless titles, accepts, and the jury selection continues.
Drummond has a point, here—how could one not sense the bias in the courtroom if one of the lawyers for the prosecution has been awarded a town honor, recently, and the other has not. But of course Drummond’s “coloneldom” is only a concession to fairness, and is not supported by many of the townspeople.
A townsman named George Sillers, who runs the feed store, is called to testify as a potential juror. Davenport accepts Sillers quickly as a “God-fearing” member of the town population. But as Drummond questions Sillers, Sillers reveals that, though he considers himself Christian, his wife does more of the thinking about religion, and that Sillers just “runs the feed store.” Sillers had also not heard of Darwin before the brouhaha surrounding Cates.
Sillers, like other characters in Hillsboro, is not so much concerned with religious principles as he is a passive believer in Christianity and in Christian values. Sillers might state that he is opposed to evolution being taught in schools, but in reality the teaching of evolution has very little impact on his day-to-day life.
Drummond, satisfied by this, accepts Sillers to the jury, but Davenport and Brady both worry that Sillers might be more open to an evolutionist argument, since he seems less fervently Christian than the other jurors. Brady argues, to the Judge, that Sillers is not representative of the town; Drummond accuses Brady of wanting to run the jurors “through a meat-grinder” such that their beliefs are all the same. Brady accuses Drummond of “warping” juries in order to get them to go against their deeply-felt moral beliefs, to encourage juries to sympathize with, rather than punish, criminals.
Now Brady and Davenport wonder about the religiosity Sillers might bring to bear on the trial—this exposes the idea that they are in fact concerned with assembling a jury of Christian believers, since they think that this jury would be more likely to rule that Cates has broken the law in Hillsboro. Brady and Davenport are not dishonest, here, but they are also not above arranging the trial to their own advantage.
The Judge tells both Drummond and Brady to stop—he states that the jury has been set, and orders the court to reconvene at ten the next morning. The Judge also announces that Reverend Brown will be holding a prayer meeting in front of the court that night. After this announcement, Drummond objects, saying that the Judge has not announced that a Darwinist meeting will be held that night—the Judge tells Drummond he is being preposterous, and Drummond seems satisfied to have pointed out to the courtroom’s public the “one-sidedness” of the Judge’s and the court’s interests in the case.
Drummond makes what appears to be another reasonable point—that the Judge is apparently advertising a prayer meeting, which would prejudice the jury for one side of the trial and not the other. Drummond knows that it will be difficult to achieve “neutrality” in Hillsboro, but he will continue to fight for it as much as he can.
As people file out of the courtroom, Rachel comes up to Drummond and Cates, and tells Drummond that he and Cates should “call the whole thing off” and announce that Cates is sorry for what he’s done. She asks Cates to admit guilt and end the trial before it’s begun.
Rachel makes another stab at trying to convince Cates that he ought to admit his guilt and move on with his life. Rachel’s biggest fear, of course, is that her life will never be the same after the trial, and that Cates’ will not either. She wishes to preserve the status quo for as long as possible.
Drummond asks Cates if he’d really like to quit—Cates admits he had no idea his teaching of evolution would cause such a stir in town. Drummond laughs and says that, because Cates has “slayed” people’s ideas of God and religion, they’ve become especially angry—and Rachel responds to Drummond’s apparent mirth, at Cates’ expense, to wonder aloud if Drummond hasn’t taken the case just to make speeches against the Bible in public.
Rachel wonders why Drummond has taken Cates’ case, but although Drummond appears to joke around in court, he nevertheless understands the seriousness of the trial and of Cates’ position. This separates Drummond from Hornbeck, who can take nothing seriously, and whose only preferred position in life is that of the critic and outsider.
But Drummond counters that he cares about Cates and Cates’ opinions, and that he has taken the case because he feels Cates’ actions were justified and heroic. Drummond says that he understands Cates’ position has made him an outcast in the town, but he’ll only be more of an outcast, and a coward, if he gives up now. Drummond asks Cates if he wants to continue with the trial.
Drummond makes another reasonable point here: that Cates has already done whatever damage he can do to his reputation, and that, at this point, it would be easier simply to carry on with the trial, in hopes of perhaps winning, that it would to give up and admit defeat altogether.
Although Rachel wants Cates to throw in the towel, Cates, after thinking for a moment, agrees with Drummond that he cannot give up. Rachel is angry, but Drummond appears proud of Cates for his resolve. Meeker tells Cates he must return to jail, and as he leaves, Cates hears Rachel tell Drummond that Brady and Davenport want Rachel to testify before the court.
Cates’ resolution, here, is an important one, causing the trial to move into its serious phase—this is a point of no return for Cates, who now must submit to the jury’s verdict, after they have heard both Brady’s and Drummond’s arguments.
Cates, as he’s being led away by Meeker, implies that the questions he asked in Rachel’s presence—questions about the nature of God and religion—are questions that, if Rachel repeats them, will cause the jury to think Cates is an anti-religious atheist.
Cates is intelligent enough to realize that, although the court is not being asked to rule on his character, his character is very much on trial—and Rachel has the power to reveal just how this character is bound up in “un-Christian” thinking.
Drummond informs Rachel that the court can force her to testify, but he tells Rachel not to be afraid of Brady. He also tells her that it takes “courage” to care for a man like Cates when the rest of society has abandoned him. Drummond ends the scene by saying that, if Cates is confused about what he believes—as Rachel says he is—then Cates is an intelligent man, as only fools pretend to know everything about God, religion, and the afterlife. The scene ends.
Drummond has emerged, at this point in the play, as a defender of some of the basic virtues—courage, pluck, determination—that Brady has paid lip service to, in some of his earlier speeches. Drummond might not make broad public pronouncements on these issues, but he nevertheless has his own set of beliefs to which he firmly adheres. Yet Drummond also doubts a virtue that Brady never would: doubt and uncertainty. Drummond believes that such doubt and its corresponding open-mindedness is a sign of intelligence and that the ability to have such doubts is something worth defending.