Barbara Smoker

On this date in 1923, Barbara Smoker was born in Great Britain. Such a devout Roman Catholic that she considered becoming a nun, Smoker renounced religious faith at the age of 26, and became a secular humanist activist instead. She served as President of the National Secular Society, the most militant of the British secular groups, from 1971-1996. Her script, "Why I Am an Atheist," was recorded for the BBC in 1985. She fought a statutory ban on embryo research with a pamphlet, "Eggs Are Not People," distributed to all members of Parliament in 1985. In the tradition of 19th-century NSS activists Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant, Smoker has officiated at more than 400 secular humanist funerals, as well as wedding ceremonies and analogous ceremonies on behalf of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association, which she co-founded. Smoker served as chair of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society from 1981-1985, editing Voluntary Euthanasia: Experts Debate the Right to Die (1986). When Muslims held a London demonstration in May 1989 against Salman Rushdie, Smoker, holding a banner reading "Free Speech," was attacked by a surge of demonstrators, and was rescued from serious injury by a police officer. She has written many pamphlets for the NSS as well as regular columns for The Freethinker.

“People who believe in a divine creator, trying to live their lives in obedience to his supposed wishes and in expectation of a supposed eternal reward, are victims of the greatest confidence trick of all time.”

—-Barbara Smoker, "So You Believe in God!" 1974 pamphlet. See Women Without Superstition for more about Barbara Smoker

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; Photo used with permission from Barbara Smoker

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