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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Anniversary of McCollum v. Board of Education Decision

Anniversary of McCollum v. Board of Education Decision

On this date in 1948, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, McCollum v. Board of Education, barring religious instruction in public schools, was handed down, with a vote of 8 to 1. The dramatic case was brought by Vashti McCollum, a mother in Champaign, Ill., on behalf of her son, Jim. In her enduring book about the challenge, One Woman's Fight, Vashti described how Jim was punished by teachers and teased by students for not taking part in religious instruction illegally taught in his public school. Although she lost at the first two court levels and was treated as "a very unpopular woman," Vashti did not give up. Her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court resulted in a stunning victory for separation of church and state, which is still the prevailing precedent in public school law today. Vashti was an Honorary Officer of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. She died at age 93 in 2006.

“Separation means separation, not something less. Jefferson's metaphor in describing the relation between Church and State speaks of a 'wall of separation,' not a fine line easily overstepped. The public school is at once the symbol of our democracy and the most pervasive means for promoting our common destiny. In no activity of the State is it more vital to keep out divisive forces than in its schools, to avoid confusing, not to say fusing, what the Constitution sought to keep strictly apart. 'The great American principle of eternal separation' — Elihu Root's phrase bears repetition — is one of the vital reliances of our Constitutional system for assuring unities among our people stronger than our diversities. It is the Court's duty to enforce this principle in its full integrity.”

—-Justice Frankfurter, concurrence, McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203, 212 (1948)

Vashti McCollum savoring her US Supreme Court victory, March 8, 1948; Photo by FFRF

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

On this date in 1841, jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was born in Boston, Mass. He was the namesake and son of a famed physician. Holmes graduated from Harvard in 1861 and immediately enlisted in the Army, where he was seriously wounded three times. After the Civil War, Holmes entered Harvard Law School, where his best friend was William James. The New York Times obituary on Holmes reported that the two young men went to Europe together: "while James went on, continuing in Germany his search for the meanings of the universe, Holmes decided that 'maybe the universe is too great a swell to have a meaning,' that his task was to 'make his own universe livable,' and he dove deep into the study of the law." Holmes was admitted to the bar in 1866. He became coeditor of the American Law Review in 1870. Holmes wrote his legal treatise, The Common Law, in 1881, a 15-year labor predicated on his belief that "The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience." His recodification of the law from religious foundations to modern jurisprudence was pivotal to the evolution of legal scholarship. Holmes urged "judicial restraint," or the divorcing of private views from legal opinions. A professor at Harvard Law School, he was appointed at age 41 as an associate justice on the Massachusetts Supreme Court, eventually becoming chief justice. Pres. Teddy Roosevelt appointed him to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1902. He retired in 1932, as the oldest judge to serve. Holmes earned the sobriquet, "The Great Dissenter," for his many famous dissents, which have long since been adopted as mainstream by courts. Among his well-known legal adages: "The mind of the bigot is like the pupil of the eye: the more light you shine on it, the more it will contract." "Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society." "Three generations of imbeciles are enough." "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater. . ." "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins." Holmes, like his father, was a Unitarian, who believed in a god, but was creedless. D. 1935.

“When men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas—that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes can be carried out. That, at any rate, is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment.”

—Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., quoted in the obituary run by The New York Times

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Ed Buckner

Ed Buckner

On this date in 1946, educational researcher, author and religious skeptic Edward Milton Buckner was born in Fitzgerald, Ga. His father was an Episcopal clergyman. (One of his congregants when the family lived in Texas was astronaut Frank Borman.) Buckner, who said he started "gradually coming to my senses as an atheist" in the 1960s, received a B.A. from Rice University in Houston in 1967 and an M. Ed. and Ph.D. from Georgia State University. He married Diane Bright in 1968 and their son Michael was born in 1970. They are Life Members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Buckner was an assistant professor of urban studies at Georgia State University from 1980 to 1986. He taught research methods, statistics and computer use and was responsible for managing and conducting data analysis  from research projects. He then worked as a researcher for a public school system and later served as executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism (2001-03), as president of American Atheists (2008-10) and as American Atheists interim executive director for several months in 2018.

An example of Buckner's ability to be a burr under the saddle of government favoritism to religion was noted in November 2007 by USA Today. He and about 20 others protested "a revival-style vigil" outside the state Capitol, where Gov. Sonny Perdue prayed with hundreds of Georgians for rain to ease a severe drought as "Amazing Grace" played: "We ask God to shower our state, our region, our nation with the blessings of water." Buckner told the newspaper: "I am embarrassed that my governor thinks ordinary Georgians praying is not enough, that we need to have a mixing of church and state to get the attention of the Almighty." Two years later, he addressed the Cobb County Commission with a "prayer" of his own: "[T]hese invocations are a violation of the letter and intent of the Constitution of the state of Georgia, of the 1st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and of the 14th Amendment, ratified exactly 141 years ago today. Go and sin no more. Thank you."

Buckner has edited Freethought Press books and with Michael co-edited Quotations That Support the Separation of Church and State (1995). Father and son co-wrote In Freedom We Trust: An Atheist Guide to Religious Liberty, published by Prometheus Books in 2012. Along with writing and editing, Buckner has debated and spoken in the U.S. and U.K. about freethought and secular humanism. What does he think about the Bible? "A dangerous set of books, full of beauty, moral wisdom and history, but mixed with viciousness, cruelty, myth and immorality." (2010 interview with tabee3i, an online home for Metaphysical Naturalists "rejecting the existence of the supernatural.")

Photo by Diane Buckner 

"The stigma attached to being an atheist based on atheists being hopelessly immoral, outrageously in rebellion against a loving God, and in league with Satan (possibly as foolish dupes rather than his evil minions) was pervasive. The stigma has not ended, the fear of and hatred of us has not abated, the ignorance and misunderstanding is still widespread."

—Ed Buckner, "A Look Back from an Old Guy not in the Old Guard" (American Atheist magazine, Second Quarter,2013)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day, first observed in 1911. 

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

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