April 13 in freethought history…

thomasjeffersonApril 13, 1743 (April 2, 1743 Old Style) – Thomas Jefferson is born in Shadwell, Virginia. His accomplishments were legion: he was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence; served as Minister to France during the American Revolution; served as Secretary of State, Vice President and President of the young United States; and founded the University of Virginia. Jefferson was a Deist who coined the phrase “wall of separation between church and state,” and even created a small book called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth (often referred to as the “Jefferson Bible”) by literally cutting-and-pasting portions of the New Testament to include the core ethical teachings of Jesus and exclude the miracles and other events of dubious historicity. Jefferson died, rather poetically, in July 4, 1826, on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Delaration of Independence.

April 13, 1817 - British secularist and publisher George Jacob Holyoake is born in Birmingham, England. Holyoake was a prolific writer and lecturer, and a leader in England’s nascent freethought movement. He was the last person convicted of blasphemy in the United Kingdom. Holyoake, who adopted the label agnostic, also coined the words “secularism” and “jingoism.” He died in 1906, aged 88.

April 13, 1919 – Madalyn Mays (later Madalyn Murray O’Hair) is born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The most infamous atheist of the 20th century, O’Hair was known as “The Most Hated Woman in America” because of her unending litigation against the entanglement of church and state, her crude demeanor, and her unapologetic disdain for religion. O’Hair was at the center of the influential Supreme Court case Murray v Curlett, which outlawed mandatory Bible reading in public schools. O’Hair founded American Atheists in 1963. O’Hair, her son Jon Garth Murray, and granddaughter Robin Murray were kidnapped and murdered by a disgruntled ex-employee in 1995.

April 13, 1949 – Journalist, social critic and raconteur Christopher Hitchens is born in Portsmouth, England. Hitchens (along with Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris) was one of the so-called “Four Horsemen” of the New Atheism, known for his eloquent and unapologetic critique of religion and vigorous defense of rationalism. His books include The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, God Is Not Great, Hitch-22: A Memoir and Mortality (a collection of essays chronicling his views on death and dying). He died in 2011 after a battle with esophageal cancer, aged 62.

April 13, 1962 – Culbert Olson (who, as 29th governor of California, battled entanglement of the Roman Catholic Church in the state’s school system) dies in Los Angeles, California, aged 88. Raised by a Mormon family, he nonetheless decided he was an atheist as a child. After his exit from politics, he was president of United Secularists of America.

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