August 16 in freethought history…

georgeholyoakeAugust 16, 1842 – George Jacob Holyoake is the last person convicted of blasphemy in the United Kingdom, and sentenced to six months in a Gloucester jail. The trouble started some months earlier when, after Holyoake gave a public lecture (which had nothing to do with religion) a man complained that his talk had focused on duty to man and not duty to God, to which Holyoake responded (more or less) that he did not believe in god and that in such a time of economic hardship the English people should put God “on half-pay.” Holyoake was a prolific writer and lecturer, and a leader in England’s nascent freethought movement. He also coined the words “secularism” and “jingoism.”

August 16, 1884 – Sir Robert Stout becomes the 13th Premier of New Zealand. Born in Scotland in 1844, he emigrated to New Zealand as a young man and soon became active in freethought circles (he considered himself an agnostic). He worked as a surveyor, a teacher and a lawyer before entering politics as a liberal, most notably fighting for women’s rights. He first premiership lasted less than two weeks, but he returned to the position from 1884-1887. He also served as Chief Justice of New Zealand from 1899 until his death in 1926, aged 85.

August 16, 1950 – Atheist activist Margaret Downey is born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She has long been involved in the freethought movement; among many other things she was president of Atheist Alliance International, founder of the Freethought Society based in Philadelphia, and was Pennsylvania’s first Secular Humanist Celebrant. She is easy to spot at freethought and skeptic conventions due to her cheerful nature and colorful costumes.

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