On the courthouse lawn, two workmen discuss what to do about the “Read Your Bible!” banner. One of them says they should leave it up. Brady walks up, followed by a crowd of reporters, all of them except Hornbeck taking notes. A British reporter asks Brady his opinion of Drummond. Brady admits that the two of them were once friends and that Drummond supported his 1908 presidential campaign. He counters that even if is own brother, much less Drummond, were challenging popular belief in the Bible, that would not stop him from standing up for his beliefs.
Brady dismisses the reporters and then strikes up conversation with Hornbeck. Brady calls Hornbeck’s reporting biased, and Hornbeck responds that he writes as a critic, not an objective reporter. Brady invites Hornbeck to Reverend Brown’s prayer meeting, and Hornbeck says he won’t miss it. Hornbeck walks off, and Reverend Brown, escorting Mrs. Brady, approaches Brady. After some chit-chat, Reverend Brown strikes up the prayer meeting sternly from the podium. Drummond enters and receives glares from the preacher. To quick response from the crowd, Reverend Brown runs through the story of God’s creation of the world as told in the Book of Genesis. Rachel enters in the midst of the crescendo of call and response.
As Reverend Brown’s back-and-forth oration with the crowd reaches a frenzied pitch, the preacher asks the crowd if they curse and cast out the man who denies the story of Genesis, referring to Cates by pointing at the jail. The crowd responds furiously, which causes Rachel to shake. Reverend Brown asks the crowd if they should pray for God to bring his hellfire down on Cates. He goes further, comparing Cates to the Pharaohs and asking for “his soul [to] writhe in anguish and damnation.” Rachel interrupts and asks her father to stop condemning Cates. Reverend Brown calls out for the Lord to punish those who want to forgive Cates.
Brady, who has been growing uncomfortable with Reverend Brown’s sermon, interrupts. He cautions Reverend Brown and suggests that the preacher should not try to “destroy that which you hope to save.” Brady quotes the book of Proverbs and reminds the crowd of the Christian message of forgiveness before dismissing them. The crowd leaves, singing “Go, Tell It On the Mountain.”
After the crowd is gone, Brady approaches Drummond. Reminding Drummond of their former friendship, Brady asks why Drummond has abandoned him. Drummond replies, “All motion is relative. Perhaps it is you who have moved away—by standing still.” These words surprise Brady, and after a moment of startled silence, he walks backward offstage, leaving Drummond alone.
The fundamentalist and evolutionist factions in the play come into starker conflict in this scene. Whereas Drummond’s compassion for Rachel at the end of Act I delineates kindness as the mark of an open mind, the events of the prayer meeting thrust us back to the fundamentalist perspective. By constantly shifting between these perspectives, Inherit the Wind works as dramatic theater, presenting one confrontation after another.
When the workmen who appear at the beginning of the scene decide to leave the “Read Your Bible!” sign in its place, one workman declares, “The Devil don’t run this town. Leave it up,” echoing Hornbeck’s ironic greeting of Drummond at the end of the first scene. The playwrights juxtapose Drummond’s compassion and understanding for Cates and Rachel at the end of Act I with the workmen’s knee-jerk vilification of Drummond as the devil.
As Reverend Brown approaches the platform to deliver his sermon, the stage directions emphasize Hillsboro’s enthusiastic reception of its spiritual leader: “The prayer meeting is motion picture, radio, and tent-show to these people. To them, the Reverend Brown is a combination Milton Sills and Douglas Fairbanks.” In this rural community, religion is not only a guide for moral conduct but also a primary source of entertainment. The playwrights’ comparison of Reverend Brown to Milton Sills and Douglas Fairbanks—popular film stars during the era of the Scopes trial—emphasizes this point. Likewise, the style in which Reverend Brown delivers his sermons resembles theater more than teaching. At the end of the scene, we are left with the sense that fundamentalist Christianity monopolizes the townspeople’s worldview. We feel that the residents of Hillsboro may only profess their faith in this brand of Christianity because small-town life has exposed them to little else. More exposure to science, literature, or philosophy might cause them to waver in their beliefs or to investigate and define them more critically. Indeed, the townspeople’s shifting allegiances near the end of the play confirm these possibilities.
The extreme nature of Brown’s sermon—which damns Cates and all those who support him, including his own daughter—leads Brady to voice a different opinion, one that contradicts Hillsboro’s brand of fundamentalism. With Brown having whipped the crowd into a zealous frenzy, Brady becomes uncomfortable and outright objects to Brown’s treatment of his daughter. Brady reminds Brown of a quote from the Bible, “He that troubleth his own house . . . shall inherit the wind.” Brady implies that Brown, by bringing condemnation on his own daughter, will leave himself with nothing but his own hot air. In this departure, Brady distinguishes himself from Brown and his docile Hillsboro followers by advocating the Christian practice of forgiveness. When Brown curses his own daughter, practically with glee, Brady reminds him that his mission is to save human souls—not to hasten their damnation. Unlike Brown’s fire-and-brimstone sermonizing, which draws heavily from parts of the Old Testament, Brady emphasizes the more forgiving New Testament doctrines of Jesus. Although Brady does display his share of weaknesses, notably his vanity and ceremonious self-importance, his reaction to Brown’s sermon implies that he possesses a compassionate streak that Brown lacks.