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 3 entries for this date: James A. Haught , Robert Altman and E.B. Foote
James A. Haught

James A. Haught

On this date in 1932, journalist and author James Albert Haught was born in the rural West Virginia town of Reader, which had no electricity or paved streets. His family had gas lights and running water, while most households lived with kerosene lamps and outdoor privies.  His parents never attended church, and he ignored religion.

After graduating with a high school class of 13, he worked as an apprentice printer at the Charleston Daily Mail and later was hired in 1953 as a reporter by a rival paper, the Gazette. Republican Gov. Arch Moore Jr. derisively called the Gazette "The Morning Sick Call" in the mid-1970s for its critical reporting on his administration. Moore pleaded guilty in 1990 to five felonies and served 32 months in federal prison for extortion and obstruction of justice. 

Haught's city editor in the 1950s asked him to start going to church on Sunday so he could write a weekly religion column. Despite Haught's protest that he'd been churchless his entire life, the editor said, “Fine. That will make you objective.” Years on the church beat gradually filled him with distaste for supernatural miracle claims and he felt dishonest mingling with worshipers while not revealing his doubts about gods, devils, heavens, hells, prophecies and other dogma.

His investigative reporting led to several criminal indictments and he won about two dozen newswriting awards. He was named associate editor in 1983 and editor in 1992. When the Gazette and Daily Mail merged in 2015, he assumed the title of editor emeritus while still working full-time on editorials, personal columns and news stories. The only break from daily journalism was as a press aide to U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd for several months in 1959.

In the 1980s he started writing freethought books (12 as of this writing in 2019) and magazine essays (about 150). He served as a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine and writer-in-residence for the United Coalition of Reason and blogs at Daylight Atheism and Canadian Atheist. Many of his columns have run in Freethought Today and he is an FFRF Life Member.

Haught, who has four children and 12 grandchildren, shies from labels that describe the degree of religious doubt and prefers to be considered simply an honest person who doesn’t claim to know supernatural things that nobody can know. Nancy, his first wife, died in 2008 and he married retired teacher Nancy Lince in 2013.

He is a longtime member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation. He once debated UU President William Sinkford after Haught observed the national organization turning "more 'churchy' and using god-talk. ... I proposed that the denomination adopt a statement saying: 'The UUA takes no position on the existence, or nonexistence, of God. Members are free to reach their own conclusions about this profound question.' Actually, that statement expresses the UU reality, but leaders were afraid to put it into writing." (United Coalition of Reason interview, Aug. 23, 2017.)

PHOTO: Haught in the newsroom early in his journalism career of 60-plus years.

"Although billions of people pray to invisible gods, they're just imaginary, as far as a sincere inquirer can tell. So, to me, the only honest viewpoint is the humanist one, which doubts the supernatural and focuses on improving human life."

—James Haught (2019)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Robert Altman

Robert Altman

On this date in 1925, brilliant film director and screenwriter Robert Bernard Altman was born in Kansas City, Mo., into a Catholic family. Altman’s mother, a Christian Scientist who converted to Catholicism, and father, a wealthy insurance salesman, sent their eldest son to Catholic school. He was enrolled at age 16 in military school, and enlisted in the Army Air Force in 1945. Altman co-piloted B-24 bombers in World War II and participated in 46 missions over the Dutch East Indies. 

Enthralled by film, Altman moved to Hollywood after his military discharge. He acted in the film “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (1947) and co-wrote the screenplay of a film called “Bodyguard” (1948). Struggling for a breakthrough in Hollywood, Altman returned to Kansas City and was hired by a local film company as a writer in 1950.

He began directing short films for the company and made his silver screen directorial debut with “The Delinquents” (1957). That year he returned to Hollywood and began directing the popular television series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” (1957-58). “MASH” (1970) was his first cinematic success as a Hollywood director. 

In his illustrious career as screenwriter, director and producer, Altman was nominated for seven Academy Awards: 1971 Best Director for “MASH,” 1976 Best Director and Best Picture for “Nashville,” 1993 Best Director for “The Player,” 1994 Best Director for “Short Cuts,” and 2002 Best Picture and Best Director for “Gosford Park.” He won a prestigious “Honorary Award” from the Academy in early 2006 for “a career that has repeatedly reinvented the art form and inspired filmmakers and audiences alike.”

Julie Christie, an actress who was directed by Altman in the memorable “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” (1971), noted, “Robert’s cool is part of his belief system. He won’t be bound by rules and he doesn’t expect you to be, either. ... And he doesn’t expect people to be sheep” (The Guardian, April 30, 2004). Altman died at age 81 of complications from leukemia. He was survived by Kathryn Reed, his wife of 47 years, their two children and three children from two previous marriages. D. 2006.

"The day he left home [to fight in World War II], he remembers his mother and two sisters putting him on the train with the words, 'Thank God you've got your religion. You're going to need it now.' From that day, he says, he never went to Mass again. 'At home, you had to. Then, when I left the family, I stopped.' "

—Journalist Suzie Mackenzie, remarking on and quoting Altman in a profile in The Guardian (April 30, 2004)

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

E.B. Foote

E.B. Foote

On this date in 1829, reformer Edward Bliss Foote was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He was brought up in a conforming Presbyterian household. Foote was a physician with a hand in the newspaper business, publishing the first newspaper in New Britain, Conn. Becoming a Unitarian, then an agnostic, he befriended D.M. Bennett, publisher of The Truth Seeker. Foote was the only foe of the first Comstock bill, which was introduced in the New York legislature in 1872, and passed despite his efforts. The repressive Comstock Act was soon adopted by Congress, creating censorship of the press through postal regulations. Comstock went after his early foe in 1874, charging Foote with violating postal laws for mailing an educational pamphlet advocating the right of families to limit their size through "contraceptics." He was fined $3,500 by Judge Benedict of the U.S. Circuit Court of the Southern District of New York in 1876.

Foote helped to organize the National Defense Association seeking repeal of the Comstock laws and aided other Comstock victims. He worked actively within medical societies and at the state legislature to oppose the legitimization of Christian scientists and faith healers. A lifelong advocate of woman's suffrage, he sent a check of $25 to Susan B. Anthony when she was fined $100 for voting in the 1872 presidential election. He was a member of numerous freethought and professional groups. His son Edward Bond Foote also became a physician and freethinker. D. 1906.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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