Joseph Lewis

On this date in 1889, Joseph Lewis was born in Montgomery, Ala., where he left school at age nine to find employment. Self-educated, he read Robert G. Ingersoll and Thomas Paine, his life-long "idol." Moving to New York City in 1920, Lewis became president of Freethinkers of America, a position he held his entire life. He started his own publishing house, the Freethought Press Association. His many books include The Tyranny of God (1921), Lincoln, the Freethinker (1925), Jefferson, the Freethinker (1925), The Bible Unmasked (1926), Franklin, the Freethinker (1926), Burbank, the Infidel (1929), Atheism, a collection of his public addresses (1930), Voltaire, the Incomparable Infidel (1929), The Bible and the Public Schools (1931), Should Children Receive Religious Instruction? (1933), The Ten Commandments (644 pages, 1946), Thomas Paine, Author of the Declaration of Independence (a 1947 book arguing that Paine deserved the credit for this document, followed by a play, The Tragic Patriot), and In the Name of Humanity (1949), which condemned circumcision. His book, An Atheist Manifesto, 1954, was his major treatise on freethought. Lewis expanded publishing in the 1930s with his subsidiary, Eugenics Publishing Company, specializing in books written by medical authorities for the general public on matters such as contraception. Lewis kept in print the sex manuals of pioneering birth control advocate William J. Robinson, M.D., and gave Marie Stopes' Married Love a wide American audience.

Lewis began publishing a bulletin, Freethinkers of America, in 1937, which was renamed Freethinker in the 1940s, and finally Age of Reason in the 1950s. Regular contributors included Franklin Steiner, Corliss Lamont and William J. Fielding. Lewis persuaded the government of France to erect a sculpture of Paine by Gutzon Borglum in Paris. Lewis also dedicated statues to Paine in Morristown, New Jersey, in 1950, and in front of Paine's place of birth in Thetford, England, in 1964. Lewis took numerous court cases to protect the separation of church and state, seeking punitive damages from New York's Trinity Church when it erected a plaque with a bogus prayer by George Washington (Lewis lost). He protested the addition of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, and the issuance of Christmas stamps in the 1960s. Lewis broadcast freethought material over the radio when he lived in Miami, Florida. D. 1968.

"Atheism rises above creeds and puts Humanity upon one plane.
There can be no 'chosen people' in the Atheist philosophy.
There are no bended knees in Atheism;
No supplications, no prayers;
No sacrificial redemptions;
No 'divine' revelations;
No washing in the blood of the lamb;
No crusades, no massacres, no holy wars;
No heaven, no hell, no purgatory;
No silly rewards and no vindictive punishments;
No christs, and no saviors;
No devils, no ghosts and no gods."

—Joseph Lewis, "Atheist Rises Above Creeds," part of an address on atheism delivered at a symposium at Community Church, New York City, April 20, 1930. Atheism and Other Addresses by Joseph Lewis (1941)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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