Joseph Lewis

On this date in 1889, Joseph Lewis was born in Montgomery, Ala., where he left school at age 9 to find employment. Self-educated, he read Robert G. Ingersoll and Thomas Paine, his lifelong “idol.” Moving to New York City in 1920, Lewis became president of Freethinkers of America. 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 (1946), Thomas Paine, Author of the Declaration of Independence (1947) and In the Name of Humanity (1949), which condemned circumcision. His book An Atheist Manifesto, 1954, was his major treatise on freethought.

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. Lewis persuaded the government of France to erect a sculpture of Paine by Gutzon Borglum (the Mount Rushmore sculptor) in Paris. Lewis also dedicated statues to Paine in Morristown, NJ., 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.

Freedom From Religion Foundation