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 2 entries for this date: Marilla Ricker and Weiss v. District Board
Marilla Ricker

Marilla Ricker

On this date in 1840, Marilla Marks Ricker (née Young) was born in New Durham, New Hampshire. She became a trail-blazing attorney, abolitionist, humanitarian and suffragist. Her father, Jonathan Young, reportedly related to Mormon prophet Brigham Young, was a freethinker and proponent of women's rights who took her  to courtrooms and town meetings.

As a child she witnessed a "fiery" sermon about hell at her mother's Free Will Baptist church, she later wrote. (Boston Business Folio, 1895.) "Do you wonder that I, a child of ten years, said to my father, who was a freethinker, infidel, atheist, or whatever else you please to call him: 'I hate my mother's church. I will not go there again.' "

She started teaching at age 16, refusing to read from the bible during class, instead preferring literary works, including those of Emerson. When the school committee told her bible reading was mandatory, she refused to comply and left the profession.

In 1863 she married John Ricker, a man 33 years her senior. He died five years later, leaving an estate that made her financially independent. She studied law in Washington, D.C., determined to help the downtrodden. She passed the bar with the highest grade of anyone admitted in 1882. Her first public courtroom appearance was as assistant counsel to Robert G. Ingersoll and became known as the "prisoner's friend," successfully challenging a district law that indefinitely confined poor criminals unable to pay fees.

Ricker in 1871 had the distinction of being the first U.S. woman to vote using the argument that women were "electors" under the Fourteenth Amendment. In 1890 she won the right of women to practice law in New Hampshire. She was admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court bar in 1891. She was denied the right to run for governor of New Hampshire in 1910 on a woman's rights platform by the state attorney general. Her books include The Four Gospels (1911), I Don't Know, Do You? (1916) and I Am Not Afraid, Are You? (1917).

In I Am Not Afraid she wrote: “A religious person is a dangerous person. He may not become a thief or a murderer, but he is liable to become a nuisance. He carries with him many foolish and harmful superstitions, and he is possessed with the notion that it is his duty to give these superstitions to others.” D. 1920.

"A steeple is no more to be excluded from taxation than a smoke stack."

—Ricker, "I Am Not Afraid, Are You?" (1917)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Weiss v. District Board

Weiss v. District Board

In 1886, Catholic parents in Edgerton, Wis., protested the reading of the King James Bible during opening exercises in village schools. They considered the Douay version the only correct translation. When the school board refused to change, they sued on the grounds that daily Protestant readings contradicted Sec. 3, Article X of the Wisconsin Constitution that forbid sectarian instruction in the public schools.

The circuit court ruled in 1888 that the readings were not sectarian because both translations were of the same work. The parents appealed to the state Supreme Court. On March 18, 1890, it overruled the circuit court, concluding that bible reading constituted sectarian instruction and illegally united the functions of church and state. 

“There is no such source and cause of strife, quarrel, fights, malignant opposition, persecution, and war, and all evil in the state as religion. Let it once enter our civil affairs, our government would soon be destroyed. Let it once enter our common schools, they would be destroyed."

—Justice H.S. Orton, concurring opinion in Weiss v. District Board (March 18, 1890)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

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