August 18 in freethought history…

georgewashingtonAugust 18, 1790 – President George Washington responds to a congratulatory letter from the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island. In his brief correspondence, Washington wrote: “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” Nonetheless, Washington was acutely aware that, while the newly formed federal government prohibited “religious tests,” many of the American states still had established religions and actively limited the rights of religious minorities.

August 18, 1955 – Writer and humanist activist Tom Flynn is born in Erie Pennsylvania. Flynn is currently the Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism and editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He was indispensable in saving the Dresden, New York birthplace of Robert Green Ingersoll, which was eventually added to the National Register of Historical Places and now serves as a museum. Flynn is the author or co-author of several freethought books, including The Trouble with Christmas and The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief.

August 18, 1990 – Behaviorist, inventor and philosopher B. F. Skinner dies in Cambridge, Massachusetts, aged 86. He is best known for his theories on human behavior, which emphasized lack of free will and conditioning by repeated experience. He was also an inventor: his innovations included an automated “teaching machine” and a pigeon-guided missile. He wrote a number of books for the general audience, most notably Walden Two (which outlined an experimental community based on his theories) and Beyond Freedom and Dignity. He was the American Humanist Association’s Humanist of the Year in 1972.

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