Steve Benson

Photo by Brent Nicastro Photo by Brent Nicastro

On this date in 1954, Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Steven Benson was born in Sacramento, Calif., the grandson of Ezra Taft Benson, who served as Secretary of Agriculture under Pres. Eisenhower and became president of the Mormons (1985-1994). Benson was an Eagle Scout and graduated with a degree in political science, cum laude, from Brigham Young University in 1979. "I was on track to eternal Mormon stardom, reserved especially for faithful men in a church run by men," he has written. Except for a brief stint as editorial cartoonist for the Morning News Tribune, in Tacoma, Wash., Benson has been editorial cartoonist for The Arizona Republic since 1980, and won a Pulitzer in 1993. He and his wife, Mary Ann, who have four children, left the Mormon Church in a highly publicized break in 1993, "citing disagreement over its doctrines on race, women, intellectual freedom and fanciful storytelling," as he has written. Benson lists among the benefits of leaving religion: "another day off, a 10 percent raise and getting to choose his own underwear." Among his favorite sayings is Mark Twain's adage: "Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please."

An atheist, he has has appeared at several annual conventions of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, where he received a "Freethought in the Media: Tell It Like It Is Award" (1999) , an Emperor Has No Clothes Award (2002), and a Statuette of Liberty Friend of Freedom Award (2003). For several years beginning in 2001, Steve teamed up with Freedom From Religion Foundation staffer Dan Barker for the inimitable "Tunes and 'Toons" production, an irreverent look at freethought and religion in the news combining cartoons, music and satire. Some of their jointly-written parodies, "Godless America" among them, are recorded on the Foundation's "Beware of Dogma" CD.

“We must never retreat in the face of threats or punishments dispensed by theocratic terrorists more interested in protecting their power and indulging their vanity, than in advancing the human condition.

If, as the true believers claim, the word 'gospel' means good news, then the good news for me is that there is no gospel, other than what I can define for myself, by observation and conscience. As a freethinking human being, I have come not to favor or fear religion, but to face and fight it as an impediment to civilized advancement.”

—-Steve Benson, "From Latter-Day Saint to Latter Day Ain't" (1999), Freethought Today, December 1999

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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