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Supporting Civil Rights for Atheists and the Separation of Church and State
Edwin C. Walker: American Atheist
by Madalyn Murray O'Hair
The following is the text of American Atheist Radio Series program No. 208, first broadcast on August 26, 1972
Like every ethnic group seeking its own identity, American Atheists is attempting to uncover its history. It is a fascinating search. Often, just a name appears and a date with the notation that this person was a non-theist. I have for some time been trying to get some information, for example, on one Edwin C. Walker. I have finally uncovered one of his writings, and a little more information concerned with him.
In 1880 a European committee called a Congress of the Universal Federation of Freethinkers assembled in Brussels in August. At that time, Edwin Walker was living in Iowa and wanted a group in America, which was involved in the separation of state and church issue, to send delegates to the Brussels convention.
In 1883 he was fighting prohibition laws with the argument that \prohibition involves a principle which, if carried to its logical conclusion, would stop every Liberal press in the country and close the lips of every Freethinker.\ He was correct, since there was an arrest of a W. H. Rosentranch in Newark, New Jersey, for the crime of blasphemy and in Massachusetts an attempted suppression of Walt Whitman's \Leaves of Grass.\
Sometime before 1886 he divorced his wife and married Lilian Harman. The only difficulty with this was that he was married by the bride's father only and not by the state of Kansas. He was immediately arrested, as was his bride, because, the state charged, they \did then and there unlawfully and feloniously live together as man and wife, without being or having been married together, contrary to the statute in such case made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the state of Kansas.\ They were both found guilty in a trial which took place at Valley Falls, Kansas, on September 20, 1886, and were both sentenced to jail. He got two and a half months, and she received a half month's imprisonment.
During this period Mr. Walker was lecturing industriously to \Liberal\ audiences wherever he could collect them.
He got out of jail by finally paying his fine — after protesting that he should not do so. But his new father-in-law had just been arrested for writing about sexual freedom in his own little magazine, and Edwin felt he had to be out of jail to assist in the fight. As soon as he got out, he was immediately rearrested on the charge which had been placed against his father-in-law, and he was indicted in November 1887 to appear for trial in April 1888. By 1894, Mr. Walker was writing special editorial material for the old Atheist magazine, The Truth Seeker, and so we may never know how he made out in that arrest — except that, somehow, he was not in jail seven years later.
He was busily compiling a list of the wealth of the churches. In fact, he had information which became a series of articles titled \Church Property: Should It Be Exempt from Just and Impartial Taxation?\
The value of church property in the United States in 1890 was $679,694,439 according to the census returns of that year. That is, — the churches owned almost $700,000,000 worth of land in a country that had a population of only 63,000,000 people.
Walker continued to write for this Atheist magazine until 1896. He was busy commenting on \Protestant Persecutions,\ the \Warfare of Religion and Science,\ and the \Attitude of the Church toward Slavery\
I don't know what became of Mr. Walker after this, but I have been able to obtain a booklet he wrote in 1899. Then, this sixty-three-page booklet sold for fifteen cents and was put out by the \Fair Play Publishing Company\ of New York. It is titled \Our Worship of Primitive Social Guesses.\ A good deal of this booklet is directed toward the plea for free love. I want to read some excerpts from the book to you now. One essay is entitled \Love and the Law,\ and we must remember that Mr. Walker had been involved in a marriage which did not have the benefit of the sanction of the state of Kansas. Today we call these \common law marriages.\
The progress of ideas and the logic of events make it necessary that some one now present to the world in a condensed form the thoughts and principles of those who stand upon the unshaken foundations of equal Justice and equal Liberty in love relations — that some one today state frankly and clearly the views of those who hold that not State nor Church nor Society, not law nor Creed nor custom, can rightfully interfere between lovers, can without crime invade the uninvading.
Therefore, I pen these lines, hoping they may do good.
Love is its own law, its own message, its own punishment, its own reward. Love always will provide for its own when not trammeled by outside restrictions and not debased by greed. It appeals to the grandest impulses, to the noblest sentiments, of men and women. It makes chivalrous, gentle, refined, and helpful all who are touched by its magic wand. It informs its disciples with the spirit of honor. It rejects the dry husks of conventionality and respectability, and searches even for the sweet and wholesome grain of physical health and moral worth. It tells the lover that he must manfully help to bear all the burdens he has helped to create; that, although he is not justly amenable to the thoughtless fiat of the majority, he can never escape the jurisdiction of the law of consequences, which demands that he reap as he has sown, that where he has freely tasted the joys of love he shall pay his share of their cost. This, indeed, should be his delight as it is his obligation, and it would be but for the corrupting influence of law and custom, and the false and cruel teachings of the moralists. Despite the theorists, the problem is a simple one....
It should be stated as a fundamental principle that any act of sexual association concerns those only who therein participate. If in this union they disregard the conditions of health of their bodies or sentiments, they do so at their own risk and should bear the consequences. Their mistakes are the fruits of ignorance, but, while non-invasive ignorance should not be treated as a crime, neither should it be rewarded by exemption from its own cost. This is true in all its bearings, be the lovers married or unmarried. But the greater their liberty the stronger is the probability that their intimate relationship has the sanction of the physical, psychical, emotional and social conditions of healthy life. Wherever the sense of legal obligation comes in, it can be only at the expense of all that is tender and gentle and refined. \Love worketh no evil,\ and we love as naturally and inevitably as we breathe. Why then, should men and women be blamed and censured and shunned and imprisoned and tortured and murdered for loving those who to them are lovable? What is there wrong in love glances and kisses and caresses and all the other inexpressibly sweet and purifying endearments of sex love? If love between the sexes is right and proper under any circumstances, statute law can not change that rightfulness and propriety into wrongfulness and impropriety. If love between a certain man and a certain woman is pure, it is so inherently; it is so because they are physically, mentally, and emotionally adjusted to each other, and not because they may have complied with legal or priestly requirements....
But . . . such relations are wrong, to those who think they are wrong, though no bad consequences, physically, follow their violation of the commands of their own consciences.
The law has nothing to do in affairs so private and delicate as these. . . .
Sexual intercourse is right or it is wrong. If it is right, no act of legislation can make it wrong. If it is wrong, no act of legislation can make it right. If it is right, it is so without as well as within the place of legal marriage. If it is wrong, it is so within as, well as without that pale. The moral and physical considerations that make it wrong elsewhere than in the marriage bed, make it equally wrong there.
The law tells the lovers that association at 7:30 P.M. is utterly foul, and impossible of forgiveness, but that association at 8:00 P.M. of the same day is pure and virtuous if in the intervening half-hour some preacher or civil law officer has muttered over them a legal incantation. How can sensible persons believe such an absurdity?...
Educated though they were . . . millions of men and women have found the promptings of desire too strong to be overcome, and antenuptial association has taken place. Then, often, the lover has refused to help care for the fruit of their mutual act, and the loving, trusting woman has been left to bear alone the fears and pains of maternity, the care of offspring, and the cruel jibes and sneers and the heartless ostracism of society. The man from his infancy had been taught to consider the woman impure who loved sexually before she was married, and the accursed poison had infiltrated his entire system, destroying in him the sense of obligation and suppressing the gentle impulses of his kindlier nature. Had he been educated in the principles of social freedom, he would have seen that his responsibility was all the greater because he had it in his power to escape the consequences of his actions; that he was in honor bound to prove himself every inch a man by standing faithfully beside the girl who for love of him had risked the frowns and curses of an ignorant and largely hypocritical society, the perils and agonies of parturition, and the worries, forebodings and burdens of motherhood. And, even had the flame of the old love died in the ashes of the past, still he would have realized that, in equity, he must do his share in caring for the incarnated passion of the sweet days fled. He would know that she is as pure after as she was before the act that clamor declares was her social suicide. Society is principally responsible for these wrecks of womanhood that the men they loved have abandoned, have left to drift hopelessly . . . These men . . . should have risen, and if they could, they would have risen and played well the parts of free and reasoning men. But the ascendancy of character over false education and deeply rooted prejudices is possible to only the rarest of natures; the character itself is lacking in most of us, for we are the children of the undead ages of ignorance and cruelty. We inherit and suffer from the intellectual limitations, the moral obliquities, the weak imaginations and consequent deficient sympathy and excessive hardness, and the physical discases of our ancestors. . . .
On the other hand, what is the protection that woman receives in marriage?.. -
What are the facts? As John Stuart Mill pointed out in his \Subjection of Woman\, the fact that many men are better than the law which licenses them to hold sexual commerce with the women whom that law puts into their possession, and that they are not the masters which statute and custom give them the power to be, explains why we have many happy homes. . . . But such homes are the exceptions; for man is almost irresistibly tempted to exercise power when it is given to him, to play the tyrant when he can do so with impunity; and so we find that the lover, who was all gentleness and consideration when she he loved was free and independent, at liberty to welcome or to repel his advances — becomes the harsh and invasive husband, when she can no longer reject those advances when they are not agreeable to her. Irresponsible power hardens and debases its possessor. Had this man outraged this woman if not married to her, he would have been lynched by his indignant neighbors — now, he may ravish her every night, and she has no redress whatever. She is his wife, and no husband can commit rape upon his wife. So our courts hold, and public opinion says amen. Behold how law depraves the moral sense, transposes good and bad, and breaks down the safeguards of personal security! It cruelly mocks the wife.
Prostitution is sexual intercourse without love, and is of frequent occurrence in marriage, where women have married for homes or for position or through parental pressure; also where the love which once brought the man and woman together in sweetest accord has ceased to exist. Often prostitution degenerates into rape. Intercourse is rape in all cases where physical force is used, or where the force of legal or of supposed moral obligation compels the wife to yield her person to an embrace which is repugnant to her, an embrace in which love and desire on her part are absent and her body and personality are invaded under one form or another of marital power, in which her wishes are denied the deciding vote.
It has passed into a truism among thoughtful men and women that at least one-half of the children born in legal marriage are undesired by one or both of the parents, more often, of course, by the mother. The husband may indulge his passion, as the law licenses him to do, without regard to the consequences so far as children are concerned, and upon the very often unwilling protesting participant in the act is thrown all the physical risk and all responsibility for results.\
Well, I have no more time on this program to read from the writings of Edwin Walker . . . but he certainly makes me wonder what was going on in the homes of America back in his days. Apparently he was buttressed by the testimony of many women as to their marriage states. I am surprised that his arguments sound logical at that! Again, it was in the field of sexual freedom that most American Atheists fought and were jailed. More on all of this another time.