December 15

    Bill of Rights Adoption

    Bill of Rights Adoption

    On this date in 1791, the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution was ratified.

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    —Article I (First Amendment)

    Oscar Niemeyer

    Oscar Niemeyer

    On this date in 1907, architect Oscar Niemeyer was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He was an artist and highly accomplished architect who designed the majority of the public buildings in Brasília, Brazil’s capital, in the 1950s. His works include Itamaraty Palace in Brasília (constructed in 1962), the Cathedral of Brasília (1970) and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Niterói (1996). He is often called Brazil’s greatest architect for his innovative modernist architecture. Active in politics as a socialist, he was forced into exile in France in 1964 when the military seized power in Brazil.

    He was very public about his atheism but accepting of people with religious beliefs and designed churches and at least one mosque. “[I]n the end, that’s it — you are born, you die, that’s it.” (“Oscar Niemeyer: A Vida é um Sopro,” a 2007 documentary film.)

    In 1988 he was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize along with Gordon Bunshaft, making Niemeyer the first and only South American to be awarded the Pritzker. In 2007 he published his memoir The Curves of Time. Niemeyer was married to Annita Baldo from 1928 until her death in 2004, and they had a daughter, Ana Maria. He married Vera Lúcia Cabreira, his longtime secretary, in 2007 when he was 98. They lived in a house he designed in 1951. He died at age 104. Samba music played at his interment. D. 2012

    “A church is something very beautiful. It is nice when people feel happy in it. But I am not a religious man. Look at us, and then at the infinity of space. We are rather small, insignificant creatures, wouldn’t you say?”

    —Niemeyer, quoted in "Oscar Niemeyer: Legend of Modernism," eds. Paul Andreas and Ingeborg Flagge (1999)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor; photo by T photography, Shutterstock.com

    Maxwell Anderson

    Maxwell Anderson

    On this date in 1888, dramatist James Maxwell Anderson was born in Atlantic, Pa., the second of eight offspring of Charlotte (née Stephenson) and William Anderson. The family moved often due to his father’s work as a Baptist minister. 

    A sickly child, Anderson read voraciously. After high school in Jamestown, N.D., he earned a B.A. in English literature from the University of North Dakota in 1911 and worked as a teacher and high school principal. Fired for making pacifist statements to students, he enrolled at Stanford University and received an M.A. in English lit in 1914.

    He worked as a teacher and journalist for several years and was fired from several jobs for various reasons, including voicing outspoken views. He started a poetry magazine and wrote his first play, “White Desert,” in 1923, collaborating in 1924 with Laurence Stallings on the comedy-drama “What Price Glory?” It had a successful Broadway run and was adapted for the screen two years later.

    Anderson’s long string of plays included the Tudor dramas “Elizabeth the Queen” (1930) and “Mary of Scotland” (1933), in which he inveighed against religious intolerance. “Winterset” (1935), inspired by the Sacco-Vanzetti case, won the 1935 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play. “High Tor” won the same award two years later. He was on the cover of Time magazine on Dec. 10, 1934.

    He also had success as a lyricist and wrote the book for the 1938 Kurt Weill musical “Knickerbocker Holiday.” Its “September Song” became a jazz-pop standard. He wrote movie screenplays and several of his plays were adapted by Hollywood. Three versions of “Saturday’s Children” (1927) were made. “Anne of the Thousand Days” (1948) became a 1969 movie with Richard Burton and Geneviève Bujold as Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

    His last successful Broadway play was 1954’s “The Bad Seed.” A contender for the 1955 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, it lost out to “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

    Anderson married high school classmate Margaret Haskett in 1911 in North Dakota. They had three sons, Quentin, Alan and Terence. His early 1930s’ affair with married actress Gertrude Higger led to a split with Haskett. Anderson and Higger had a long relationship but never married. She killed herself by inhaling car fumes in 1953. Their daughter Hesper was born in 1934. He married once more, to TV production assistant Gilda Hazard in 1954.

    In a 1941 essay, he called the theater “a religious institution devoted entirely to the exaltation of the spirit of man. It has no formal religion. It is a church without creed, but there is no doubt in my mind that our theater, instead of being, as the evangelical ministers used to believe, the gateway to hell, is as much a worship as the theater of the Greeks, and has exactly the same meaning in our lives.”

    Anderson died at home two days after suffering a stroke at age 70 in Stamford, Conn. D. 1959. 

    “I have found my religion in the theater, where I least expected to find it, and where few will credit it exists. Yet it was in these godless nineteen-twenties that I stumbled upon the only religion I have. And I came upon it in the most unlikely and supposedly godless of places.”

    —Anderson essay, "By Way of Preference: The Theatre as Religion" (New York Times, Oct. 26, 1941)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Sue Lines

    Sue Lines

    On this date in 1953, politician and labor activist Susan “Sue” Lines was born in Perth, Australia, to Nancy (McCrae), a teacher, and James Lines. Her father was born in England, came to Australia at age 12 as part of a child migration scheme and worked as a baker, carpenter and builder after serving in World War II. Her maternal heritage is Scottish.

    Lines held British citizenship by descent until renouncing it in 2013. After her parents separated, she became close to her stepmother Mary Davies. She earned a bachelor of education at Murdoch University in Perth and worked as a teacher and community and union organizer.

    In 2002 she became national executive of the Labor Party, the main center-left political party (the Liberal Party is center-right). She served on the party’s national policy committee from 2007-09 and was appointed in 2013 to fill a vacancy in the 76-member national Senate. She was elected to a six-year term in 2016 and reelected in 2022.

    As chair in 2018 of the Senate’s procedure committee, she led an inquiry into the current practice of starting sessions with the Lord’s Prayer. The Greens, the third-largest party, proposed ending the practice but the proposal failed. The prayer also opens the House of Representatives.

    The practice calls for the president to recite the prayer preceded by “Almighty God: We humbly beseech Thee to vouchsafe Thy special blessing upon this Parliament, and that Thou wouldst be pleased to direct and prosper the work of Thy servants to the advancement of Thy glory, and to the true welfare of the people of Australia.”

    The issue returned after Lines was elected Senate president when Labor prevailed in the 2022 federal election. She was the second woman elected to the position and the first from the Labor Party. The Senate procedure committee will again consider dispensing with the invocation.

    Commenting on the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in an advisory capacity legislatively, Lines told a reporter that “we’ve had almost every parliamentary leader applaud the diversity of the Parliament, and so if we are genuine about the diversity of the Parliament we cannot continue to say a Christian prayer to open the day.” 

    “Personally, I would like to see the prayers gone. I’m an atheist. I don’t want to say the prayers. If others want to say the prayers they’re open to do that. Personally I would like to see them gone but again it’s not something I can decree. It’s a view of the Senate.”

    —Interview, The Australian (July 28, 2022)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

Freedom From Religion Foundation