January 6 in freethought history…

washingtonnationalcathedralJanuary 6, 1893 – US Congress grants a charter for the establishment, in the District of Columbia, of what would become Washington National Cathedral. This impressive structure hosts worship services in the Episcopal tradition, and despite the Constitution’s explicit prohibition against Congressional “establishment of religion,” the structure has been designated America’s “National House of Prayer.” The Cathedral has hosted several presidential state funerals and memorials, as well as presidential prayer services in inauguration years.

January 6, 1919 – Theodore Roosevelt dies in Oyster Bay, New York, aged 60. While the energetic former president was devoutly religious and regularly attended church, he was an advocate for separation of church and state. He declined to add “so help me God” to his presidential oath of office; opposed efforts to mandate “In God We Trust” on American currency (on the grounds that it was disrespectful, if not blasphemous); and was outspoken against religious intolerance, calling political movements that discriminated on the basis of religion “wicked” and “a grave offense to American principles.”

January 6, 1955 – British entertainer Rowan Atkinson is born in Consett, County Durham, England. While best known for his television roles in Blackadder and Mr. Bean, he has also been an advocate for free speech, especially when it comes aspects of the UK’s hate-speech laws that seen to protect religious sensibilities. Atkinson has said, “To criticize a person for their race is manifestly irrational and ridiculous, but to criticize their religion, that is a right. That is a freedom. The freedom to criticize ideas, any ideas – even if they are sincerely held beliefs – is one of the fundamental freedoms of society.”

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