Freethought Day

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Freethought Day is October 12, the annual observance by freethinkers and secularists of the anniversary of the effective end of the Salem Witch Trials.



The seminal event connected to Freethought Day is a letter written by then Massachusetts Governor William Phips in which he wrote to the Privy Council of the British monarchs, William and Mary, on this day in 1692. In this correspondence he outlined the quagmire that the trials had degenerated into, in part by a reliance on "evidence" of a non-objective nature and especially "spectral evidence" in which the accusers claimed to see devils and other phantasms consorting with the accused. Note that, contrary to what has been claimed by some, there was no specific order or edict by Phips to ban "spectral evidence" from all legal proceedings. Rather, this was one concern that brought about Phips' stopping the proceedings. When the trials ultimately resumed, "spectral evidence" was allowed but was largely discounted and those convicted were swiftly pardoned by Phips. In the time leading up to the trials being stopped, it was actually clerics including the famous Cotton Mather, often portrayed as the chief villain in the hysteria, who took the lead in advising cautions against the use of "spectral evidence." The Rev. Increase Mather, Cotton's father, specifically condemned "spectral evidence" in his book 'Cases of Conscience', in which he stated that, "It were better that ten suspected witches should escape, than that one Innocent Person should be Condemned." It was this shift in sentiment, no doubt aided by the escalating hysteria and the fact that accusations were beginning to reach higher into the Massachusetts Bay Colony hierarchy, that led to Phips' action. [1]


Freethought Week is often observed during the week in which October 12 falls or Freethought Month during October. Organizers of these events are hoping to show the public that atheists are just like everyone else, that they are involved in the community and family-friendly. [2]

Sacramento Freethought Event

Since 2002, Freethought Day has been observed in Sacramento as a free event, open to the public and held outdoors. Dubbed a "festival of reason" the annual event often features live entertainment and speakers similar to a rally, and is funded through a dinner or reception. "(Freethought Day) is really all about the celebration of the separation of church and state. We also celebrate the First Amendment, and science, and reason and progress" according to the event's organizer, David Diskin. [3]

The 2007 event held at Waterfront Park started with a reading of the Phipps letter. Bands, speakers, bounce house and more, “It’s just a chance for us to show people we don’t have horns and tails” [4] Mayer Heather Fargo issued a proclamation for Freethought Day in Sacramento. [5]

In 2016, the event was renamed "California Freethought Day" to reflect the growth of the event spanning the last 15 years. Several hundred attended in 2016, with the theme "#SecularPride". Diskin quoted in the Sacramento Bee said that this is a day for people to meet others and '"work together to move society forward with a firm reliance on reason and humanity.'" [6]

California Freethought Days

Highlights of past events. [7]

YearProgramSpeakers and EntertainersVenueInducteesNotes
2002Delight in Freethinking!Bobbie Kirkhart, Henda Lea, Mynga Futrell, Jerry Sloan, Hank Kocol, Paul Geisert, Cleo Kocol, Ron Fegley, Kevin SchultzWaterfront Park Thomas Paine, James Madison, Frances Wright, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Green Ingersoll, Mark Twain, and Clarence Darrow.30 people attended
2003Liberty of Conscience(emcee) Mynga Futrell, poetry readings by Cleo Kocol and Anatole Lubavich, Jerry Sloah, Paul Geisert William Phips and Denis Diderot Literature tables, live music, and raffle. Volunteers gave mini-speeches.
2004Dare to Think for yourself!The James Israel Band Michael Newdow, Roberta Chevrette Ernestine Rose and Emma Goldman Banned Book display, various other tables
2005Stand Up for Reason(emcee) Mel Lipman, Karen Scott, Pearcys, Mynga Futrell, James Israel Band, Roberta Chevrette, Joel Pelletier Mary Wollstonecraft and Frederick Douglass Camp Quest presented and A Freethinker's Bookshelf
2006Embrace Reality(emcee) Mel Lipman, Michael Newdow, James Israel, roberta Chevrette Butterfly McQueen Jump house from Camp Quest, blood pressure health check added, follil display
2007Reason & Act... BoldlyStephen Meadows, Paul Geisert, Michael Newdow, Karen Scott, Mynga Futrell, James Israel Roger Williams Segway display
2008Celebrate Our Secular Heritage!(emcee) Lori Lipman Brown, Constantine Lobos, Paul Geisert, Kristi Craven, Keith Lowell Jensen, Matt LaClair, Vince Wales, Michael Newdow, Paul Martin, Jammin' James & Friends George Orwell Freethought and banned book displays
2009Stay Curious!John Ross, Cleo Kocol, Brian Jones, Midtown Jazz, James Israel Band, Michael Newdow César Chavez Park Luther Burbank
2010Equality for Everyone!(emcee) Marie Bain, Bruce Maiman, Roberta Chevrette, James Israel Band Jane Addams City of Sacramento and Governor issued proclamations for Freethought Day.
2011Come Out and Celebrate Reason!Fred Edwards, Elisabeth Cornwell, Keith Lowell Jensen, The Phenomenauts, Dan Barker McGeorge School of Law350 attendees. First movie screening. Multiple tracks throughout the day, including a "Leadership" track.
2012Vote for Reason!Michael Werner, Mikey Weinstein, Jessica Ahlquist, Chris Lombardi, A.J. Johnson, Rebecca Hensler, Steve Newton, Brian Dalton, Baba Brinkman, Victor Harris.Ben Ali Shrine Center Bayard Rustin Addition of "Authors' Panel".
2013The Many Voices of Reason Sean Faircloth, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Greta Christina, Jason Frye, Heina Dadabhoy, Keith Lowell Jensen, Shelly Segal, Neil WehnemanWilliam Land Park Hypatia "Authors' Panel" expanded to include Podcasters. First "Group Photo".
2014The Wonders of Magic and ReasonRyan Kane, Rebecca Watson, Phil Zuckerman, Dan Arel, Ross BlocherCalifornia State Capitol Building Frank Zappa
2015Spread the Reason Mandisa Thomas, Greta Christina, Jason Torpy, Jason Heap, Chris Johnson, Richard CarrierCalifornia State Capitol Building Oliver Sacks "Leadership Day" resumed. Event started with a service from Sunday Assembly Sacramento. "Community Panel" added.
2016#SecularPride Aron Ra, David Silverman, Cidney Fisk, Nas Ishmael, Shelly Segal, Dan Arel, Melissa Pugh, Tom Manger, David McAfee, Steve Hill, Victor HarrisVacant office space near Reason CenterCleo Kocol and Anne Gaylor.Heavy rain forced the event to an alternate, indoor venue. Several hundred attended. [8]
2017Engage with Reason Ryan Bell, Evan Davids, Larry Decker, David Diskin, David Fitzgerald, Candace Gorham, Victor Harris, Rebecca Hensler, Sikivu Hutchinson, Juan Mendez, Richard Pan, Athena Salman, David Smalley, Thomas Smith, Elbe Spurling, David Tamayo, Jessica XiaoCalifornia State Capitol Building Katharine Hepburn
2018Discover Reason Eugenie Scott, Dr. Abby Hafer, Kavin Senapathy, Seráh Blain, Evan Clark, Steve HillCalifornia State Capitol Building W.E.B. Du Bois and Stephen Hawking
2019Think Again Hemant Mehta, Raul Martinez, Debbie Goddard, Sarah Gillooly, Monica MillerCalifornia State Capitol Building Marie Curie and James Baldwin

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Elizabeth Proctor was convicted of witchcraft in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. She was the wife of John Proctor, who was convicted and executed.

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  1. Linder, Douglas. "Two Letters of Gov. William Phips (1692-1693)". Famous Trials. University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. Retrieved 13 August 2016.
  2. Simon, Stephanie. "Atheists Reach Out -- Just Don't Call It Proselytizing". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 13 August 2016.
  3. Johnson, Doug. "'Freethought Day' Organizers Take Advantage of School District Policy to Advertise Event". FOX 40. Retrieved 13 August 2016.
  4. Garvin, Cosmo. "Party like it's 1692". Retrieved 13 August 2016.
  5. Galvin, Cosmo. "October 10, 2009 Mayor Johnson not comfortable celebrating freethought". Retrieved 13 August 2016.
  6. Magagnini, Stephen. "Atheists celebrate 15th annual Freethought Day in Sacramento". Local. The Sacramento Bee. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  7. "Past Years". Freethought Day. California Freethought Day Committee. Retrieved 8 November 2019.
  8. Magagnini, Stephen. "Atheists celebrate 15th annual Freethought Day in Sacramento". The Sacramento Bee. The Sacramento Bee. Retrieved 8 November 2019.