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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Alfred Tennyson

Alfred Tennyson

On this date* in 1809, Alfred Tennyson was born in England. By the time his Poems was published in 1833 (including "The Lady of Shalott"), Tennyson had established his name as a poet. By 1850, he had earned the title, Poet Laureate. Tennyson, a deistic pantheist, was not entirely unorthodox, but he routinely trumpeted freedom ("Make bright our days and light our dreams," To J.S., 1833). Tennyson alienated freethinkers of his day when he wrote an agnostic hero in Promise of May (1882) with an "unworthy character," according to freethought historian Joseph McCabe. But Tennyson made up for such an undiplomatic lapse in other writings. Famously, he wrote in In Memoriam: "There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds." In Maud, 1855, he wrote: "The churches have killed their Christ." In "Locksley Hall Sixty Years After," Tennyson wrote: "Christian love among the churches look'd the twin of heathen hate." In Becket, he wrote: "We are self-uncertain creatures, and we may, Yea, even when we know not, mix our spites and private hates with our defense of Heaven." Tennyson recorded in his Diary (p. 127): "I believe in Pantheism of a sort." His son's biography confirms that Tennyson was not Christian, noting that Tennyson praised Giordano Bruno and Spinoza on his deathbed, saying of Bruno: "His view of God is in some ways mine." D. 1892.

* Tennyson's birthdate is given as August 5 by some sources. According to one source, his baptismal records say August 5, but his mother preferred to celebrate his birthday on August 6, her wedding anniversary, so we will, too!

“In our windy world, what's up is faith, what's down is heresy.”

—Alfred Tennyson, Harold, 1876

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Robert Taylor

Robert Taylor

On this date in 1784, Robert Taylor ("the Devil's Chaplain") was born in England and became a member of the College of Surgeons in 1807. Undergoing a religious conversion, he was ordained an Anglican priest in 1813, and became curate at Midhurst. He lost his faith about five years later when a parishioner exposed him to rationalist writings. Resigning with a splash, he took out an advertisement seeking employment, which spelled out his loss of religion. Bowing to his mother's pleadings, he briefly returned to the ministry, but was expelled for giving deistic sermons. In 1826 Taylor opened a deistic chapel. He flouted church authority by wearing his episcopal garments when giving his deistic lectures. That year he was sentenced to a year in jail for one of his sermons. He and oft-jailed freethought publisher Richard Carlile paired up and distributed a handbill inviting Cambridge students to hear "The Rev. Robert Taylor . . . and Mr. Richard Carlile . . . present their compliments as Infidel missionaries, to . . . most respectfully and earnestly invite discussion on the merits of the Christian religion." This made a deep impression on student Charles Darwin, who, in later delaying the release of his theory of evolution, took into account their treatment at the hands of Cambridge authorities. Taylor and Carlile were thrown out of town and authorities even revoked the license of the landlord who had rented to them. After writing a pamphlet called "The Devil's Pulpit" (1831), an energetic denunciation of New Testament dogma in which Taylor complained of "this tax-burthened and priest-ridden country," he was nicknamed "The Devil's Chaplain." In 1831, he was again convicted of blasphemy, was sentenced to two years in prison and was fined £200. D. 1844.

“. . . [the profession of the Christian faith is] a system of the grossest hypocrisy, a fashionable villainy, a licensed swindle, cheat, and trick. . .

. . . go to church and chapel, you fools, -- listen to the parson, and shut your eyes, and open your mouths, and see what God will send you.

Never was the day, never, in all the tide of time, in which such mighty efforts were made to keep mankind in ignorance; never were any clergy on earth, Pagan or Papistical, so opposed to the diffusion of knowledge, so desperately afraid of it, and so bitterly hostile to it, as the Protestant clergy, both of the established church, and the dissenters of the present day, in this metropolis.”

—— Robert Taylor, "The Devil's Pulpit" (pamphlet, 1831)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Clara Bewick Colby

Clara Bewick Colby

On this date in 1846, Clara Bewick (later Colby) was born in England. She moved with her parents to a farm near Windsor, Wisconsin, in 1849. As a little girl and early reader, Clara liked to memorize and recite, and churned butter by keeping time to fearful hymns threatening "the hells of fire," she recalled in a lecture. At 19, she moved to Madison and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin. Graduating in 1869 as valedictorian, she was instrumental in opening admission of the UW to women. She taught at the UW, then married Leonard Wright Colby, and moved to Beatrice, Nebraska. Clara served as president for 16 years of her state's Woman's Suffrage Association. She founded the Woman's Tribune in 1883, and published this organ of the National Woman Suffrage Association for 25 years, including daily editions through the suffrage conventions. As editor, she also set type, was compositor and sometimes ran the press. Legendary for energy and her work ethic, Clara adopted two children, including a Sioux Indian baby girl, "Lost Bird," found in the arms of her slaughtered mother after Wounded Knee by Clara's husband. Clara was the first woman designated as a war correspondent during the Spanish War. She lectured in nearly every state for suffrage, as well as England, Ireland and Scotland. Clara had belonged to the Congregational church, but introduced and defended resolutions denouncing patriarchal religious dogma, notably at the 1885 woman suffrage convention. She routinely featured her friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton's critiques of religion on the front pages of the Woman's Tribune. She died after nursing others with the flu in 1916.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Guy de Maupassant

Guy de Maupassant

On this date in 1850, Henri Rene Albert Guy de Maupassant was born in France. After fighting in the Franco-German War, Maupassant began writing short stories. Considered a master of the short story, Maupassant wrote more than 300 short stories, as well as novels and travel books. He was a colleague of Gustave Flaubert, Emile Zola, Ivan Turgenev and Henry James. One of his most famous short stories, "Ball of Fat," 1880, was said to have inspired a plotline in John Ford's "Stagecoach," 1939, about the hypocritical treatment of a prostitute by travelers. Pierre and Jean (1889), a psychological study of adultery between a wife and two brothers, was turned into a film in 1951 by Luis Bunuel. Many of his stories have been adapted as movies in France. Among his 39 horror stories is "The Inn," a predecessor to Stephen King's "The Shining," involving a plot about madness afflicting an isolated mountain caretaker. Freethought biographer Joseph McCabe noted: "His works sufficiently reflect his disdain of religion" (A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists). D. 1893.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Ellery Schempp

Ellery Schempp

On this date in 1940, Ellery Schempp was born in Philadelphia. Ellery began protesting morning devotions as a 16-year-old junior in Abington Senior High in Pennsylvania in 1956. Pennsylvania law then required ten verses of the bible to be read in every classroom at the beginning of each school day, followed by students standing to recite the "Lord's Prayer" and the flag salute. Twenty to 30 states had similar laws. "As a matter of religious conscience, I could no longer participate in these devotions," he said. He protested by bringing a copy of the Quran to school, to show that the bible was not unique, and read that silently instead of standing for the "Lord's Prayer." He ended up in the principal's office. Ellery then wrote a letter to the ACLU asking for their help. The ACLU agreed and filed a lawsuit. After he graduated from high school in 1958, he was no longer a plaintiff, but his family, including his father Ed Schempp, his mother Sydney, and younger siblings, carried on the celebrated case, which resulted in a landmark 8-1 decision in 1963 declaring devotional bible reading and prayer rituals in schools unconstitutional. "We received about 5,000 letters, roughly a third supporting us, a third opposing in reasonable terms, a third hateful and vituperative." The Schempp decision has stood as a bulwark against the coercive proselytization of small schoolchildren, and it has stood the test of time. The Schempp case was joined with Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s case out of Baltimore; the Schempp case came first legally, but Ellery has always been gracious in being sure both cases are credited.

Ellery, who had a distinguished career in science, attended Tufts, where he graduated cum laude in physics and geology. He earned a PhD at Brown in physics. He worked on fiber optics research, joined the staff of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 1980, and worked on the development of MRI systems. Ellery Schempp is a member of the American Physical Society and has authored and coauthroed many articles in professional journals. He has traveled widely, including to Greenland, the Canadian Arctic, and in Antarctica, and has hiked and climbed in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Alps, the Himalayas, the Sierras and in New Zealand. Ellery, a Lifetime Member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, was named a "Champion of the First Amendment" by the Foundation in 2007. Prof. Steven Solomon at New York University has documented the landmark case in the book, Ellery’s Protest, published by University of Michigan Press (2007). He is an accomplished speaker who often talks on college campuses to make sure students today know why it is so important to keep religion out of public schools and government programs.

“Public prayer is not intended to promote religious values, but to enhance the authority of some churches and some political views over others. Similarly with the posting of the Ten Commandments. It is about power, not about religion. Government by Christian or Islamic or any other faith has rarely been progressive.

And the Constitution clearly intends that there should be freedom from religion.”

—— Ellery Schempp, "A Champion of the First Amendment," in an acceptance speech to FFRF, Oct. 13, 2007

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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