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.

As a member, to receive Freethought of the Day in your email inbox, contact us here. To become an FFRF member, click here. To learn more about FFRF, request information here.

Woody Harrelson

Woody Harrelson

On this date in 1961, Woodrick Tracy “Woody” Harrelson was born in Midland, Texas. Harrelson grew up in Lebanon, Ohio, and graduated from Hanover College with a degree in theater arts and English in 1983. Harrelson’s television acting career began in 1985, when he was cast as bartender Woody Boyd on “Cheers.” After “Cheers” ended in 1991, Harrelson focused on his film career, notably appearing in “Indecent Proposal” (1993), “Natural Born Killers” (1994), and “The People vs. Larry Flint” (1996), for which Harrelson was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Actor. More recently, Harrelson appeared in the award-winning “No Country for Old Men” (2007), for which he and the rest of the cast won a Screen Actor’s Guild Award for Best Cast. In 2009, Harrelson played an army captain in “The Messenger.”

Harrelson is a vegan, and is very active in the green movement, working for organic living, veganism, and social change. Harrelson is also not shy in expressing his opinions about cannabis legalization, for hemp and marijuana, or his lack of religion. In an October 2009 interview with Playboy magazine, he said, “I like the mellow vibe of herb, its uninhibiting effect. For me, it’s a better drug than any of the others, and since we’re all drug addicts, I don’t think it’s a bad choice . . . Whether your drug is sugar, coffee, sex, exercise or religion—everybody has something.” Though many people consider him to be a pro-cannabis activist, he characterizes himself as a supporter of many causes who doesn’t have time to advocate for them all. In the same interview, Harrelson discussed his personal loss of faith. In 2008, Harrelson married his longtime partner Laura Louie. The couple have three daughters: Deni, born in 1993; Zoe, born in 1996; and Makani, born in 2006. When he is not working in Los Angeles, Harrelson lives with his family in Maui.

“I was getting into theology and studying the roots of the Bible, but then I started to discover the man-made nature of it. I started seeing things that made me ask, ‘Is God really speaking through this instrument? . . . My eyes opened to the reality of the Bible being just a document to control people. At the time I was a real mama’s boy and deeply mesmerized by the church.” 

—Woody Harrelson, interviewed by Playboy Magazine, October 2009

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski; Photo by s_bukley /

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Hendrik Hertzberg

Hendrik Hertzberg

 On this date in 1943, journalist Hendrik Hertzberg was born in New York City. Hertzberg is currently the principal political writer for The New Yorker magazine. He graduated from Harvard University in 1965, where he wrote for the student newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, and eventually became the managing editor. He was also the president of Harvard's Liberal Union. Shortly after graduation he began working at the San Francisco bureau of Newsweek, where he reported on hippies, The Grateful Dead and other music groups, and Ronald Reagan's rise to governor of California. During the Vietnam War, Hertzberg joined the U.S. Navy and was posted in New York City for two years. In 1969 he began writing for the New Yorker, a post he held until 1977. He then worked as a speechwriter for the governor of New York, Hugh Carey. He joined President Jimmy Carter's speechwriting team, and was made the head speechwriter in 1979. Hertzberg became the editor of The New Republic in 1981. When he was not working as the editor, he worked as a fellow at Harvard, holding positions at the Institute of Politics and the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy. Hertzberg joined the New Yorker in 1992 and has worked as the executive director, senior editor, and is the main contributor to essays on politics and society.

Hertzberg's books include One Million (1970), which attempts to make large numbers less abstract, Politics: Observations and Arguments (2005), which includes discussions on the religious right and the importance of secularism and humanism; and ¡Obamanos! The Birth of a New Political Order (2010), which chronicles the 2008 election. In 2009, Forbes named Hertzberg the seventeenth most influential liberal in the U.S. media. He is married to Virginia Cannon and has one child.

Photo by Ed Lederman/PEN American Center under CC 2.0. This photo has been cropped form its original version.

"The atmosphere of piety in American public life has become stifling. Where is it written that if you don't like religion you are somehow disqualified from being a legitimate American? I'm pretty sure there is no such thing as god."

—— Hendrik Hertzberg, from his book, Politics: Observations and Arguments, 2004 NPR excerpt

Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Samuel Porter Putnam

Samuel Porter Putnam

On this date in 1838, Samuel Porter Putnam, the son of a Congregationalist minister, was born in New Hampshire. He became a student at Dartmouth in 1858, and enlisted as a private in the Civil War, where, after two years of service, he was promoted to the rank of captain. He became a Congregationalist minister, in 1868, after three years at the Chicago Theological Seminary. Three years later he broke with that denomination and joined the Unitarians. After serving in various congregations, he then "gave up all relations whatsoever with the Christian religion, and became an open and avowed Freethinker," as he recorded in his opus, Four Hundred Years of Freethought. During the Hayes Administration he was appointed to the Civil Service. He left that work in 1887, when he became president of the American Secular Union, and "devoted himself entirely to the Freethought work," later becoming president of the Union. He was elected president of the California State Liberal Union in 1891 and the Freethought Federation of America in 1892. Putnam established the San Francisco Freethought (1887-1891). He noted that he visited all but four of the existing states and territories in his work for freethought, traveling more than 100,000 miles giving freethought lectures. His history of freethought and rationalism, Four Hundred Years of Freethought, was published in 1894. His other writings include: Prometheus, Gottlieb: His Life, Golden Throne, Waifs and Wanderings, Ingersoll and Jesus, Why Don't He Lend a Hand? Adami and Heva, The New God, The Problem of the Universe, My Religious Experience, Religion a Curse, Religion a Disease, Religion a Life, and Pen Pictures of the World's Fair. Putnam's tragic death created a mild scandal. He and a young lecturer-colleague, May Collins, had been touring in Boston. She was staying at the home of Josephine Tilton. The pair had returned to the house after dinner and were found dead the next morning in her room, victims of leaking gas. Although they were fully clothed, and there was no "evidence of impropriety," the religious press attacked Putnam, disclosing that he was a divorced man with two children. D. 1896.

“The last superstition of the human mind is the superstition that religion in itself is a good thing, though it might be free from dogma. I believe, however, that the religious feeling, as feeling, is wrong, and the civilized man will have nothing to do with it . . . [When the] shadow of religion disappeared forever . . . I felt that I was free from a disease.”

—-Samuel Porter Putnam, My Religious Experience, 1891

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.


Alfred "Dilly" Knox

On this date in 1884, classics scholar and cryptographer Alfred Dillwyn "Dilly" Knox was born in Oxford, England, to Edmund Knox, an Anglican cleric and future bishop of Manchester, and Ellen (French) Knox. She died when Knox was 8. The fourth of six children, Knox was educated at Eton College and King's College-Cambridge, where he studied classics and papyrology and was friends with Lytton Strachey and John Maynard Keynes. When World War I broke out, he was recruited by the Royal Navy to work in its cryptology unit, which broke the code for the German "Zimmermann Note" to Mexico that helped bring the U.S. into the war. After the armistice, he completed deciphering the work of 3rd-century BCE Greek poet Herodas from papyrus fragments. He married Olive Roddam, his former secretary, in 1920. They had two sons.

He also resumed his codebreaking work, and at the start of World War II was senior cryptographer at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park. He believed women had a greater aptitude for the work and more attention to detail than men, and thus his staff included a coterie dubbed "Dilly's fillies." It was here he worked with project director Alan Turing on refinement of Turing's "bombe" device that would be instrumental in breaking encoded German "Enigma" messages and help doom the Third Reich. Knox did not live to fully see the fruits of his labor, dying of lymphoma on Feb. 27, 1943, after working from home for an extended period due to his illness. He received the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George for extraordinary service to the commonwealth.

Public domain photo.

At King's College, Knox became the only confirmed atheist in his family. "According to his niece [biographer Penelope Fitzgerald], Dilly became convinced that Christianity was a two-thousand-year-old swindle eliciting false fears and hopes in believers."

—The American Scholar, Vol. 69, No. 4 (Autumn 2000), pp. 140-42

Compiled by Bill Dunn

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Daniel Radcliffe

Daniel Radcliffe

On this date in 1989, actor Daniel Jacob Radcliffe was born to a Protestant father and Jewish mother in London. Radcliffe was selected for the 1999 BBC television production of "David Copperfield" to play the young title character. The film was well-received in Britain, and it helped land Radcliffe a small role in the 2001 Pierce Brosnan movie, "The Tailor of Panama." During filming, there was a massive search in the UK to find someone to play Harry Potter in the film version of the J.K. Rowling creation. Jamie Lee Curtis, on the set of "The Tailor of Panama," sized up Daniel Radcliffe and told his mother, "He could be Harry Potter." Indeed, Radcliffe became immortalized as the star of the eight-movie Harry Potter series.

Radcliffe also acted in "December Boys" (2007), "My Boy Jack" (2007) and had his first theatrical role in the critically acclaimed West End play "Equus" (2007), followed by a role in the 2011 Broadway revival of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." His first non-Potter movie role was in the 2012 horror film "The Woman in Black" and was followed by other starring roles, the latest as of this writing, in 2019's "Escape From Pretoria." In the 2019 seven-episode series “Miracle Workers” on TBS, he played a low-level angel who answers prayers from a basement office, with Steve Buscemi playing God. 

In a January 2012 interview with Parade magazine, Radcliffe said he has a problem with religion or anything else that says, "We have all the answers. ... We change our minds on issues all the time. Religion leaves no room for human complexity." He lives in London with his longtime girlfriend and actor Erin Darke, 34.

“I personally am agnostic leaning toward atheism. I don’t expect there to be a God and an afterlife."

—Radcliffe, New York Post interview (Feb. 7, 2019)

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch; photo by Featureflash,

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

FFRF privacy statement