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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Elbert Hubbard

Elbert Hubbard

On this date in 1874, Elbert Hubbard was born in Bloomington, Illinois, the son of a country doctor. During his youth, the family moved to Buffalo, New York. Hubbard joined one of the first successful mail order businesses, JP Larkin of Buffalo, selling his interest in it at 36. After a trip abroad, he established Roycroft Printing Shop in East Aurora, New York, producing what are considered some of the finest handmade books of the 19th century, serving clients such as Henry Ford, Teddy Roosevelt and Queen Victoria. Hubbard published several periodicals, including a monthly, The Philistine (1895-1915) and The Fra, also a monthly, with circulations that grew into the tens of thousands. Hubbard, a firm freethinker, wrote eight books himself, and produced a series, Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great (1895-1909), including one little book about Robert Green Ingersoll, the 19th century's most well-known "infidel." Gradually, Hubbard created a Roycroft community, including factory, blacksmith shop, farms, bank and an inn that is still standing. East Aurora today houses many of his artifacts in an Elbert Hubbard Museum. Hubbard became a popular lecturer, and was hired as a columnist by Hearst Newspapers. He and his freethinking wife Alice Hubbard went down on the Lusitania on May 7, 1915.

“To talk about a Superior Being is a dip in superstition, and is just as bad as to let in an Inferior Being or a Devil.

When you once attribute effects to the will of a personal God, you have let in a lot of little gods and evils--then sprites, fairies, dryads, naiads, witches, ghosts and goblins, for your imagination is reeling, riotous, drunk, afloat on the flotsam of superstition. What you know then doesn't count. You just believe, and the more you believe the more do you plume yourself that fear and faith are superior to science and seeing.”

—Elbert Hubbard section, from An American Bible, edited by Alice Hubbard (1912)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie

On this date in 1947, Salman Rushdie was born in Bombay, India, into a middle-class Muslim family. At 14, Salman was sent to Rugby School, England. In 1964, his family moved to Karachi, Pakistan. Rushdie continued his education, graduating in 1968 from King's College, Cambridge. After a fling at acting, television and freelance copy writing, he saw his first book published in 1975, a sci-fi adventure called Grimus. Midnight's Children, 1981, won the Booker Prize and catapulted Rushdie to international attention. Shame followed in 1983. His novel Satanic Verses, which was banned in India and South Africa, brought down the notorious death fatwa upon him by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on February 14, 1989. As V.S. Naipaul understatedly put it, the fatwah was "an extreme form of literary criticism." Rushdie was forced to go into hiding. A million dollar bounty was placed on his head, and the reward for his death was doubled in 1997. In 1993, his Norwegian publisher was wounded in an attack, and several people have died during rioting and protests against Rushdie. The Iranian government officially rescinded the fatwah in September 1998, although one ayatollah has since issued his own death fatwa. Rushdie has continued writing novels. His superb nonfiction essays from 1992 and 2002, appear in the book Step Across This Line. In one essay for The New York Times (Nov. 27, 2002), Rushdie wrote: "If the moderate voices of Islam cannot or will not insist on the modernization of their culture--and of their faith as well--then it may be these so-called 'Rushdies' who have to do it for them. For every such individual who is vilified and oppressed, two more, ten more, a thousand more will spring up. They will spring up because you can't keep people's minds, feelings and needs in jail forever, no matter how brutal your inquisitions." "The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to turn other ideas—uncertainty, progress, change—into crimes," wrote Rushdie in Is Nothing Sacred?, 1990.

“In India, as elsewhere in our darkening world, religion is the poison in the blood. Where religion intervenes, mere innocence is no excuse. Yet we go on skating around this issue, speaking of religion in the fashionable language of 'respect.' What is there to respect in any of this, or in any of the crimes now being committed almost daily around the world in religion's dreaded name?”

—-Salman Rushdie, "Slaughter in the Name of God," Washington Post, March 8, 2002

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; Photo by Featureflash,

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Supreme Court Affirms No Religious Test for Public Office

On this date in 1961, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its unanimous decision in Torcaso v. Watkins, overturning a provision in the Maryland state constitution requiring that "a declaration of belief in the existence of God" be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in the state. Roy Torcaso was asked to become a notary public by his workplace, then discovered there was an unconstitutional religious requirement. The Maryland Court of Appeals held: "The petitioner is not compelled to believe or disbelieve, under threat of punishment or other compulsion. True, unless he makes the declaration of belief he cannot hold public office in Maryland, but he is not compelled to hold office." The high court rejected such rationale, saying it "cannot possibly be an excuse for barring him from office by state-imposed criteria forbidden by the Constitution." Roy had asked the court to find the state constitutional requirement in violation of Art. VI of the U.S. Constitution, which mandates that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." In a footnote, the court noted: "Because we are reversing the judgment on other grounds, we find it unnecessary to consider appellant's contention that this provision applies to state as well as federal offices." Roy Torcaso, as an Establishment Clause victor before the U.S. Supreme Court, is an honorary officer of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

“. . . it was largely to escape religious test oaths and declarations that a great many of the early colonists left Europe and came here hoping to worship in their own way. It soon developed, however, that many of those who had fled to escape religious test oaths turned out to be perfectly willing, when they had the power to do so, to force dissenters from their faith to take test oaths in conformity with the faith. . . .

“There were, however, wise and farseeing men in the Colonies--too many to mention--who spoke out against test oaths and all the philosophy of intolerance behind them. . . .

“We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person 'to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.' Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against nonbelievers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.”

—Justice Black for the U.S. Supreme Court, Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488, June 19, 1961

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

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