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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Francis Ellingwood Abbot

On this date in 1836, freethought writer Francis Ellingwood Abbot was born into a family of Transcendentalists. Educated at Harvard and Meadville Theological School, Abbot became a Unitarian minister. By 1868, he was forced to leave the pulpit because of his too-radical views. Abbot was taken to court for using a meeting house to form a more liberal society, and eventually was barred by the New Hampshire Supreme Court from ever preaching in any Unitarian Church in the state without the consent of all members. He moved to Toledo, Ohio, to found the Independent Society and its journal, the The [Free Religious] Index, initially described as a journal of "free religious inquiry" or "scientific theism." Abbot continued editing the very fine newspaper from Boston until 1880. (B.F. Underwood and and a co-editor replaced Abbot as joint editors of The Index and published it through 1886, when Underwood went on to found another great freethought journal of record, The Open Court in Chicago.) Abbot was a noted freethought lecturer who also wrote Impeachment of Christianity in 1872. He became the first president of the American National Liberal League in 1877. He parted company with many fellow Liberals by preferring to push for the amendment of the Comstock Law, rather than its complete repeal, after D.M. Bennett was arrested by Anthony Comstock in Syracuse in 1878. Abbot, known as a dedicated family man, died at his wife's gravesite on the tenth anniversary of her death. D. 1903.

"That great and growing evils render it a paramount patriotic duty on the part of American citizens, who comprehend the priceless value of pure Secular government, to take active measures for the immediate and absolute secularization of the state, and we earnestly urge them to organize without delay for this purpose."

—Francis Ellingwood Abbot, from "Nine Demands of Liberalism," The Index, April 6, 1872. Source: Four Hundred Years of Freethought edited by S.P. Putman.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Pat Tillman

Pat Tillman

On this date in 1976, Pat Tillman, millionaire NFL Arizona Cardinals player, was born to Mary and Patrick Tillman in San Jose, Calif., the first of three sons. Pat began walking by eight and a half months. He grew up in a household without a television, where he and his brother largely read or played outdoors. In his senior year in high school, he led his team to the Central Coast Section Division I Football Championship and earned co-Player of the Year honors for the Central Coast Section. He helped lead the Sun Devils at Arizona State University to the 1997 Rose Bowl after an undefeated regular season. He graduated summa cum laude from ASU's W.P. Carey School of Business in three and a half years, with numerous athletic honors. He soon became the Arizona Cardinal's starting safety and broke the franchise record for tackles in 2000 with 224. He also competed in marathons and the Ironman triathlon, and volunteered in youth groups and schools, while pursuing a master's degree in history. Pat married his high school sweetheart, Marie, in the spring of 2002. He soon made his stunning announcement that he was placing his NFL career on hold to become a U.S. Army Ranger with his brother, Kevin. They served tours in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, and in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2004. They were recipients of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 11th Annual ESPY Awards in 2003. Pat died from "friendly fire," as he tried to provide cover for fellow soldiers escaping from an ambush in a canyon in Afghanistan. It took the military five weeks to disclose the truth to his family: that Pat died from fratricide. When his antiwar views—he soon considered the war "illegal"—were documented by his family, they were attacked by right-wingers.

The May 3 memorial program featured a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, which had been found underlined in Tillman's belongings: "But the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude." In an article in October 2006 appearing in Truthdig, Richard Tillman wrote that the best way to honor his brother's birthday was by choices made on "the day After Pat's Birthday" (Nov. 7, 2006, Election Day). Tillman wrote: "Somehow suspension of habeas corpus is supposed to keep this country safe. Somehow torture is tolerated. Somehow lying is tolerated. Somehow reason is being discard for faith, dogma, and nonsense." D. 2004.

“Hold your spiritual bromides . . . Pat isn't with God. He's f-ing dead. He wasn't religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he's f-ing dead.”

—Brother Richard Tillman at his brother's memorial service, San Francisco Chronicle, May 4, 2004

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Vashti Cromwell McCollum

Vashti Cromwell McCollum

On this date in 1912, champion of the First Amendment Vashti McCollum, née Cromwell, was born in Lyons, New York, the daughter of Arthur G. and Ruth Cromwell. Arthur was a noted atheist activist in New York State. Vashti was named by her mother for the biblical character who was "the first exponent of woman's rights." She studied at Cornell and the University of Illinois, but on the verge of graduation married John Paschal ("Pappy") McCollum in 1934. They had three children before she completed her degree in political science and law in 1944. The couple's idyllic life as a faculty family in Champaign, Ill., changed radically when their oldest boy, Jim, entered the fourth grade, and was pressured to participate in religious instruction. When she withdrew Jim from the class, he was put in what amounted to detention. After filing suit to stop the unconstitutional instruction, Vashti was branded "that awful McCollum woman" and their family became community pariahs. Despite losing at both trial and appellate level, Vashti did not give up. On March 8, 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision delivered by Justice Hugo Black, vindicated Vashti and the constitution in a lovely 8-1 decision that is still precedent. Vashti wrote her classic account, One Woman's Fight, in 1951. She went on to serve two terms as president of the American Humanist Association, also receiving its "distinguished service" award. She earned her master's degree in mass communication as a returning student, and by the late 1950s became a world traveler, often going "surface," visiting nearly 150 countries and all seven continents, including Antarctica. She was an honorary officer of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and was featured in the Foundation's 1988 film, "Champions of the First Amendment." A nonagenarian, she had been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. D. 2006.

“Between being praised and persecuted, condoned and condemned, I might understandably have become bewildered, particularly at the brand of ethics sometimes displayed by the staunch defenders of Christianity. But of one thing I am sure: I am sure that I fought not only for what I earnestly believed to be right, but for the truest kind of religious freedom intended by the First Amendment, the complete separation of church and state.”

—Vashti Cromwell McCollum, One Woman's Fight. Also see

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Thandie Newton

Thandie Newton

On this date in 1972, a film star was born in London. Thandie Newton, a culturally-diverse British woman with a flair for the arts, spent her early days living in Africa and England. Newton’s first days of life began in London after her parents met in a hospital in Zambia. Her mother, a Zimbabwean healthcare worker, and her father, a British lab technician, moved from London back to Zambia after having Newton and remained there until they were forced to seek political refuge. In the UK, Newton pursued a career in dance while attending the University of Cambridge. She earned a degree in Social Anthropology in 1995. An unforeseen back injury prevented her from attaining her dream of becoming a famous dancer. Luckily for Newton, she had another career path on the backburner, acting. Newton’s inaugural camera appearance occurred in 1991, in the Australian film “Flirting." Not long after this breakout performance, she would appear in such notable films as, “Interview with a Vampire” (1994), “Beloved” (1998), “Mission Impossible: II” (2000), “Crash” (2004), “The Pursuit of Happiness” (2006) and “Norbit” (2007). In 2006, Newton received a BAFTA, London Critic Circle Film and Empire award for her outstanding performance in “Crash.” Her portrayal of Condoleezza Rice in the film “W” (2008) has also earned her positive accolades. 

Acting is not Newton’s only passion in life; she is also the face of a world-wide charitable campaign. Volvic, a prominent bottled water company, and World Vision have joined forces to help bring clean drinking water to Africa. Newton’s love for Africa, coupled with her desire to provide aid to those in need, makes her the perfect person to spearhead this project. "I've been to Africa many times," she says, "and also I'm educated about Africa, in terms of just reading about the political situation and colonialism, and how that continent has suffered, but also about how it has endured and survived,” as told to The Guardian (May 27, 2008). 

“I grew up on the coast of England in the 70’s. My dad is white from Cornwall and mum is black from Zimbabwe. Even the idea of us as a family was challenging to most people, but nature had its wicked way and brown babies were born. But, from about the age of five I was aware that I didn’t fit, I was the black atheist kid in the all-white Catholic school run by nuns, I was an anomaly.” 

—Thandie Newton

Compiled by Katie Stenz

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Greg Graffin

Greg Graffin

On this date in 1964, Gregory Graffin was born in Racine, Wis. He graduated from Cornell University with a Ph.D. in zoology in 2003. (His thesis examined religion’s effect on humanity and involved asking evolutionary biologists if they believed in god; almost 90% of those surveyed did not.) Graffin co-founded the punk rock band, Bad Religion, in 1980, which journalist Jeff Nall, writing for Freethought Today, called “likely the bestselling, openly atheistic rock band in American history” in Oct. 2004 {http://ffrf.org/legacy/fttoday/2004/oct/nall.php}. The irreverent band’s symbol is a cross that has been slashed out, similarly to a “no smoking” sign, and their songs include “Atheist Peace.” Along with performing and recording with Bad Religion, Graffin teaches Life Sciences for UCLA. He has two children.

Graffin calls himself a naturalist, according to a November 2006 Wired magazine article. In 2008, Graffin was awarded the Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism from Harvard University’s Humanist Chaplaincy. In 2006, Graffin co-wrote the book, Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant? with Preston Jones. Graffin wrote: “There is only this life, so live wonderfully and meaningfully.”

“If you can believe in God, then you can believe in anything. It’s a gang mentality.” Greg Graffin, wired.com, November 2006.

—Greg Graffin, wired.com, November 2006

Compiled by Sabrina 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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