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: Julia Gillard , Barbara Mertz and Michelle Bachelet
Julia Gillard

Julia Gillard

On this date in 1961, Australia's first female prime minister, Julia Eileen Gillard, was born in Wales into a Baptist family, which migrated to Australia in 1965. Initially she wanted to be a teacher, but a friend's mother suggested a career in law since young Gillard already had excellent debating skills. (She is now considered one of the most skillful and articulate communicators in Australian politics.) Gillard studied art and law at the University of Adelaide, where she became active in politics. She transferred to the University of Melbourne and became president of the Australian Union of Students in 1983. She graduated from the University of Melbourne with a degree in law in 1986, worked in Melbourne for a law firm and became its first female partner in 1990. Specializing in industrial law, Gillard fought to improve working conditions for women in clothing and textile industry sweatshops. In 1996, Gillard was appointed chief of staff for Victorian Opposition leader John Brumby and was herself elected to Federal Parliament in 1998. She entered Labor's Shadow Ministry in 2001, and became the Shadow Health Minister in 2003. Gillard was sworn in as Australia's first female Deputy Prime Minister in 2007, and simultaneously served as the Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion. Gillard ousted Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for what she considered steering the government in the wrong direction, making her Australia's first female prime minister on June 24, 2010. She is additionally Australia's first unmarried prime minister, and the first foreign-born prime minister in almost a century. 

Gillard called herself a "non-practicing Baptist," on Dec. 26, 2009 (The Sydney Morning Herald, "Catholics divided in the House," by Jacqueline Maley). She told ABC Radio Melbourne's Jon Faine (June 29, 2010): "I grew up in the Christian church, a Christian background. I won prizes for catechism, for being able to remember Bible verses. I am steeped in that tradition, but I've made decisions in my adult life about my own views" and "I'm not going to pretend a faith I don't feel" (Telegraph UK, "Australian prime minister 'does not believe in God,'" by Bonnie Malkin, June 29, 2010). "I've never thought it was the right thing for me to go through religious rituals for the sake of appearance. . . . For people of faith, I think the greatest compliment I could pay them is to respect their genuinely-held beliefs and not to engage in some pretence about mine." 

Photo by MystifyMe Concert Photography (Troy) under CC 2.0

Faine: Do you believe in God?
Gillard: No, I don't, Jon, I'm not a religious person. I'm of course a great respecter of religious beliefs but they're not my beliefs.

—ABC Radio 774 Melbourne interview with Jon Faine, quoted by The Australian, "Julia Gillard risks Christian vote with doubts on God," by Matthew Franklin, June 30, 2010

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Barbara Mertz

On this date in 1927, author and Egyptologist Barbara Mertz (née Barbara Louise Gross) was born in Canton, Illinois, to a printer and an elementary school teacher. Mertz received a Bachelor’s in Egyptology from the University of Chicago in 1947, and earned her Ph.D in 1952. Unable to find work in academia due to sexism, Mertz began writing, instilling her beloved characters with the courage to fight sexist social mores. Over the course of her career, Mertz wrote nearly 70 books. Two of her first books, Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphs, A Popular history of Ancient Egypt (1964) and Red Land, Black Land, Daily Life in Ancient Egypt (1967), were nonfiction works. Following this, Mertz wrote exclusively under noms de plume, publishing 37 mystery-suspense novels under the name Elizabeth Peters—drawn from the names of her two children Elizabeth and Peter—and 29 thrillers under the name Barbara Michaels. Mertz often married her scholarly interests in archeology and the Middle East with her love of mystery, romance and strong female characters. Her most popular heroine, Amelia Peabody, was a Victorian-era amateur Egyptologist. Mertz served as president of the American Crime Writers League, and as a member of the Egypt Exploration Society, the James Henry Breasted Circle of the University of Chicago Oriental Institute, the Editorial Advisory Board of KMT (“A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt”), and the National Organization for Women. Mertz has received numerous Agatha Award nominations, winning for Naked Once More (1989), two Anthony Award nominations, and an Edgar Award nomination. Mertz was named Grandmaster at the 1986 Anthony Awards, awarded the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award in 1998, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Malice Domestic Convention in 2003. She married Richard Mertz in 1950 and they divorced in 1969. D. 2013.

“There are always, thank heaven, skeptics who challenge orthodox ideas. They are the great thinkers of all times.”

—— Barbara Mertz, from an interview by Ernest Dempsey with the Copperfield Review (April 28, 2012)

Compiled by Noah Bunnell

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Michelle Bachelet

Michelle Bachelet

On this date in 1951, Michelle Bachelet was born in Santiago, Chile, to an archaeologist mother and Chilean Air Force General father. In high school, Bachelet participated in theater, volleyball and choir, and became her class representative and president. She attended the University of Chile for an education in medicine, and during Salvadore Allende's government, she participated in the Socialist Youth movement. General Pinochet, supported by the US Central Intelligence Agency, led a coup in 1973 against the democratically-elected Allende government, for which Bachelet's father worked. Bachelet watched the bombing of La Moneda Palace from the roof of her medical campus, and later that day learned that her father had been arrested for treason. Her father died in prison a year later as a result of torture. Instead of intimidating Bachelet, this event motivated her to become even more active in Chile's Socialist Party, and she began hiding people wanted by Pinochet's regime. In 1975, Pinochet's secret police arrested Bachelet and her mother, separated them, and submitted them to interrogation and torture. Bachelet and her mother were exiled to Australia after about 20 days of detention, and from there moved to East Germany, where Bachelet attended medical school in Berlin. While in Germany, Bachelet studied German—increasing her number of fluent languages to five—and married an architect and fellow Chilean exile. They had two children together.

Bachelet and her family returned to Chile in 1979, and she graduated from the University of Chile as a surgeon in 1982. While the dictatorship was still in place, Bachelet's job applications were mostly rejected "for political reasons," but she found work in pediatrics and public health. At this time, she participated in many political organizations that worked to restore democracy in Chile. She separated from her husband in the late 1980s, but could not divorce him until divorce was legalized in Chile in 2004. When democracy was restored to the country in 1990, she began work as a epidemiologist in Santiago, which led to work in the National AIDS Commission and consultation work with the World Health Organization and the Pan-American Health Organization. She joined the Health Ministry in 1994, and graduated at the top of her class in military strategy at the National Academy of Strategic and Political Studies. She then took a course on Continental Defense at the American Defense College in Washington, D.C., in 1997. Upon return to Chile, she was immediately hired in the Ministry of Defense. She joined the Socialist Party's Political Committee from 1998 to 2000, at which time she was named Minister of Health, a position responsible for managing 70,000 employees and supervising the entire country's health care system. As Minister, Bachelet extended medical and dental coverage to all patients in the public health system, founded the Healthcare Research Council and laid the groundwork for the National Commission on the Protection of the Rights of Mental Health Patients. She also increased drug coverage for AIDS patients, and those suffering from depression and schizophrenia. In 2002, President Lagos named Dr. Bachelet the head of the Defense Ministry, making her the first woman in Latin America to hold such a position. In 2004, Dr. Bachelet announced her bid for president. A final election runoff was held in January 2006, and she won with 53.5% of the vote—making her the first woman to hold Chile's highest office. President Bachelet, whose cabinet is half female, has endured much criticism for her open agnosticism and secular reforms, such as making the morning-after pill free at state-run hospitals, an act which infuriated the Roman Catholic Church. As reported in the Washington Post, Bachelet said, "I'm agnostic . . . I believe in the state" ("Female, Agnostic and the Next Presidente?" Dec. 10, 2005). In November 2009, following her outstanding handling of the economic crisis, Bachelet's approval rating broke records at 80%.

Photo by Comando Michelle Bachelet at Descarga y Actua under Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Chile

“I was a woman, a divorcee, a socialist, an agnostic . . . all possible sins together.”

—-Michelle Bachelet, on why she was an unlikely contender for president of a strongly Roman Catholic country, in "Socialist Bachelet wins Chilean presidency," USA Today, Jan. 15, 2009

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

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