Who introduced the bill in the legislature? " came the question from the attorney.
"Ah did," said Jim Holsted with a wide grin from the witness box.
Holsted, 6-foot-5, lanky and boyish-looking at 38, is the freshman senator in the Arkansas legislature who started the ball rolling that led to the Arkansas "creation science" trial, a little cyclone of law, politics, religion and journalism that is spinning itself out this week in a Little Rock courthouse. It is a trial that has done what no other creation vs. evolution trial, including the famous Scopes "monkey trial," has done: allowed a head-on collision between religion and science.
Religion came powerfully into Holsted's life in a perverse way, in a cycle that began grimly in 1972 when his parents died; for reasons still not known, his mother shot her husband in the drug store they ran in North Little Rock, then used the same pistol to kill herself.
"We still don't know why. We don't," said Holsted as he sat in the coffee shop across from the gathering crowd at the courthouse. "We didn't know anything was wrong."
His father was 67 at the time, a four-term state legislator who also had an insurance agency and some real estate. Jim had gone to Vanderbilt University and studied business, come back and helped with the insurance agency.
He tried to keep up the family businesses, but they were too much for him. He let the drug store go, bought a Chrysler dealership. It too had problems. He stopped going to church, and told his family he was going to leave them. "I decided my wife wasn't good enough for me," Holsted said.
But before he did a turnabout occurred. As Holsted tells it, the Lord Jesus Christ walked into his life.
Actually, it was his brother. His brother, a minister just back from a Christian campaign in Omaha, sat down in the insurance company office one morning. The two had a talk.
"I realized what I needed was Jesus Christ," Holsted says. "It took away my bad feelings, it took away all the guilt I felt about my parents--whether it had been something I was doing that made that happen."
He decided to stay with his family; "God put my family back together," Holsted says. He began to "share testimony" at a Christian businessman's committee. He attended a prayer breakfast once a week. He began to keep regular company with a circle that included a man named Carl A. Hunt.
Holsted ran for and was elected to a state senate seat in 1978, in a campaign that he said was exhilarating because it was his put-together family's first big enterprise together. His newfound religion had not solved all his problems, however. His Chrysler dealership was failing badly, and he sunk himself deep into debt to revive and sell the business.
Then, at the beginning of this year, he got a call from Hunt. Hunt had been in touch with a network of fundamentalists who had a "model bill" written up on the teaching of creationism in the public schools. It was a composite bill requiring that if public schools teach evolution they also must teach creationism, coming partly from the work of Wendell Bird, an attorney affiliated with the Institute for Creation Research in San Diego, the preeminent "creation-science" group in America.
"Christian legislators" around the country were being asked to put the bill forward in their states. There were only about two weeks left in the Arkansas legislative session for the year, but Holsted took a look at the bill and some creationist writings and said he would give it a try.
There were virtually no changes in the bill, and it passed the senate without a hearing. On the second to last day of the session, the bill came up in a house committee for a 30-minute hearing, a quick voice vote, and out onto the floor, where it passed amid a clangor of telephone calls to the legislators in a campaign organized by the local chapter of the Moral Majority.
"They had so many calls they just had to stop putting them through," Holsted said. Gov. Frank White, also a "born-again" Christian, signed the bill March 19--without reading it through, White said later.
Reporters who covered the unusual passage of the bill through the Arkansas political apparatus say now that it all happened so quickly legislators didn't know what they were voting on.
Rep. Bill Clark of Sheridan was quoted at the time with the lament, "This is a terrible bill, but it's worded so cleverly that none of us can vote against it if we want to come back up here."
Says Holsted, "Yes. Well, I'll never be able to stand up there again and say 'This is just a simple piece of legislation . . . .' "
In the same week that he introduced the bill, the state came out to padlock Holsted's insurance business and charge him with theft of property and false statements.
"I was just elated over the bill, I was having such a good time with the media calls from all over the country and from Europe . . . then the world just fell apart again," he said.
Holsted says he he took money from the insurance firm "like a loan," partly to cover his disastrous personal finances after the failure of his car dealership. He had paid back some money by the time the charges were filed, he says, and says that all the money now has been paid back. His trial is scheduled to start Feb. 1.
At the end of his breakfast, Holsted was talking about the move toward new values in America. "A morality is coming that's really going to clash with the humanists and their ideas . . . . There's an increase in Christian schools . . . there's more people talking about a commitment to Jesus Christ."
He said that if his creation science bill is ruled unconstitutional, he will come back with another one, with new wording, to make it constitutional.
Later in the day, Holsted was in the witness box, being questioned by Philip Kaplan of the American Civil Liberties Union. The question was religion--it is unconstitutional for religion to be taught in public schools, and the intent of the legislator who introduced the bill might have a bearing on whether the bill is ruled unconstitutionally religious.
Asked Kaplan: ". . . You introduced the bill because of your deeply held religious convictions? "
"Did I say that? " said Holsted, smiling. "I probably said that."