Freethought of the Day

Would you like to start your day on a freethought note? "Freethought of the Day" is a daily freethought calendar brought to you courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, highlighting birthdates, quotes, and other historic tidbits.

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There are 4 entries for this date: Ricky Gervais , George Orwell , Dan Barker and Engel v Vitale
Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais

On this date in 1961, Ricky Dene Gervais, was born. He makes TV shows and books and movies, but mostly he makes people laugh, and he makes them think, freely. (He's an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society and decided as a child that he was an atheist.) He grew up 40 miles west of London, England, in Reading, to working-class parents. He graduated from University College-London with a degree in philosophy and then worked in radio. What eventually brought him fame were his television series, "The Office," which debuted in 2001, and "Extras," in 2005. He co-wrote and co-directed both with Stephen Merchant, his friend and frequent collaborator. Gervais also played the lead roles of David Brent in "The Office" and Andy Millman in "Extras." "The Office" was remade for audiences in France, Germany, Quebec and the U.S., where "Extras" premiered on HBO in 2005. Gervais is a busy man creatively. He played leading roles in the movies "Ghost Town," "The Invention of Lying" and "Night at the Museum." He's had soldout standup comedy tours, wrote the best-selling "Flanimals" book series and starred with Merchant and Karl Pilkington in his podcast of "The Ricky Gervais Show." He has been with his partner Jane Fallon since 1982.

He's received two Golden Globes for "The Office" (one for acting, one for the show itself), as well as numerous British Academy Television Awards and British Comedy Awards. He won a 2007 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for his role in "Extras." Gervais in a video interview with Richard Dawkins, explains how he became an atheist.  In it, he recounts an afternoon at home when he was about 8 years old. His mother was ironing and he was driving Jesus on the cross as part of his bible studies homework. His brother, Bob, 11 years older than Ricky, asked him why he believed in God, a question which mortified their mother. Gervais remembers thinking, "Why was that a bad thing to ask? If there was a god and my faith was strong, it didn't matter what people thought. Oh . . . hang on. There is no God. He knows it, and she knows it deep down. It was as simple as that. I started thinking about it and asking more questions, and within an hour I was an atheist."

"It's always better to tell the truth. The truth doesn't hurt, and saying that, my mother only ever lied to me about one thing.  She said there was a God. But that's because when you're a working-class mum, Jesus is like an unpaid babysitter. She thought if I was God-fearing, then I'd be good."

—-"Inside the Actors Studio," Bravo TV, Jan. 12, 2009

Compiled by Bill Dunn

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

George Orwell

George Orwell

On this date in 1903, George Orwell (née Eric Arthur Blair) was born in India. Educated at Eton College, Blair joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma as a young man, later writing a novel, Burmese Days (1934), about it. Bumming around Europe for the experience, Blair wrote an autobiographical account, Down and Out in Paris and London (1933). Teaching for income, he continued to write novels, including A Clergyman's Daughter (1935), with its unflattering look at the repression of religion, Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936), and Coming Up for Air (1939). He also wrote a sympathetic nonfiction account of miners, The Road to Wigan Pier (1937). His book, Homage to Catalonia (1938), was written after he was wounded by Francoists while fighting for Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War. When Stalinists came after Blair and his anarchist friends, his views on communism changed. While he supported a mild socialism, his masterpiece, Animal Farm (1945), skewered Stalinism: "All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others." Religion was satirized by the character "Moses," a bird, who was a "spy and a tale-bearer," who talked up "Sugarcandy Mountain, to which all animals went when they died." Blair did commentary for the BBC during WWII. His second masterpiece, the cautionary tale, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), unforgettably put "newspeak" and "Big Brother" into the political lexicon, and conjured up a terrifying image of totalitarianism. Blair died of tuberculosis. In 1968, the 4-volume Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell was published. D. 1950.

“One must choose between God and Man, and all 'radicals' and 'progressives,' from the mildest liberal to the most extreme anarchist, have in effect chosen Man.”

—Reflections on Gandhi, p. 232, Orwell Reader, edited by Richard H. Rovere

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Dan Barker

Dan Barker

On this date in 1949, Dan Barker was born in California. His father, Norman Barker, a talented trombonist, played with Hoagy Carmichael, and has a cameo with Judy Garland in the movie "Easter Parade." Dan, who became a piano-player and songwriter, worked as a volunteer missionary as a teenager, going to Mexico with youth groups. He attended Asuza Pacific College, majoring in religion. Ordained by a Christian Church congregation, Dan worked as an assistant minister in several churches, but mainly freelanced with a musical ministry, also writing secular children's music. Many of his songs and two Christian children's musicals were produced by Manna Music and other Christian publishing houses. In his early thirties, Dan began a course of reading in science, liberal theology and rationalism that led to "an intense inner conflict." Finally, "I just lost faith in faith." In 1983, he publicly left religion. He joined the staff of the Freedom From Religion Foundation in 1987, and has written the book Losing Faith in Faith (1992), as well as three freethought/humanist books for children, and more than 30 freethought songs, including "You Can't Win with Original Sin," "None of the Above," and "Nothing Fails Like Prayer." He has recorded his freethought songs, as well as other traditional and contemporary freethought music, in three music cassettes and two CDs, "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist," and "Beware of Dogma."

“I threw out the bath water, and there was no baby there.”

—Dan Barker, Losing Faith in Faith, 1992

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Engel v Vitale


On this date in 1962, the landmark Supreme Court decision Engel v. Vitale declaring even non-denominational school prayer to be unconstitutional was handed down, with a decision of 6 to 1.

In 1951, the New York State Board of Regents had approved a short, “nondenominational” prayer which they offered to school districts for voluntary classroom use, believing that a connection to the nation's “spiritual heritage” could help instill civic values and fight communism. The prayer read, “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country. Amen.”

The Union Free School District No. 9 in New Hyde Park directed the local principal to have this prayer “said aloud by each class in the presence of a teacher at the beginning of the school day.” A group of parents, backed by Jewish and Ethical Culture groups, brought a lawsuit against the district in 1960, saying that the prayer was not in line with their and their children's religious beliefs.

The law was upheld in the state courts, but after arguments on April 3, 1962, the Supreme Court overturned the law, with only Justice Potter Stewart dissenting, and established a major precedent in the limiting of prayer in schools.

“When the power, prestige and financial support of government is placed behind a particular religious belief, the indirect coercive pressure upon religious minorities to conform to the prevailing officially approved religion is plain.”

—Majority decision, written by Justice Hugo Black

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Freethought of the Day

Would you like to start your day on a freethought note? "Freethought of the Day" is a daily freethought calendar brought to you courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, highlighting birthdates, quotes, and other historic tidbits.

If you would like to be placed on the "Daily Freethought" e-mail list to automatically receive the calendar notice, log in and edit your email settings (My Membership). Or, email  and include your first and last name with your request for verification purposes. This email service is limited to members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation or subscribers to Freethought Today. To become an FFRF member, click here.


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