Charles Lee Smith

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Charles Lee Smith (1887 – October 26, 1964) was an American atheist, freethought activist, anti-Semite and white supremacist.[1]


Raised a methodist in Maud, Oklahoma, he entered Epworth University in Oklahoma City to study theology; however, study and debate there led him to become an atheist instead. [2]

In November 1925, he founded the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism (A.A.A.A. or "the 4A's")[3] in New York City, which lasted until the death of his successor James Hervey Johnson. It attempted to organize student affiliates at universities and high schools, creating at least 30 student chapters.[4] The Los Angeles branch, "The Devil's Angels" included among its members Queen Silver, whose activities with the 4A's inspired the fictionalized movie The Godless Girl.[5] The Rochester Chapter was known as "The Damned Souls",[6][7] at Philadelphia "God's Black Sheep", at the University of Wisconsin "The Circle of the Godless", and "The Legion of the Damned" at the University of North Dakata.[8] However, the organization declined over time.

Between 1926 and 1928, Smith came into conflict with John Roach Straton, which resulted in Straton suing Smith for harassment via the mails.[citation needed] On March 20, 1934 Smith debated Aimee Semple McPherson over evolution.[9][10]

In 1935 Smith published The Bible in the Balance, which criticizes the Bible as unworthy of belief, and became a popular pamphlet for the A.A.A.A.[citation needed]

In 1937 Smith took over as an editor of The Truth Seeker, a free-thought magazine in New York City, where he continued as editor until his 1964 death.[11] During his editorship, he subtitled The Truth Seeker as "The Journal for Reasoners and Racists".[12]

Blasphemy conviction[edit]

In 1928 Smith undertook a course that ended with him the last documented person to be convicted of blasphemy in the United States.[13] That year, Smith rented a store-front in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he gave out free anti-religious atheist literature. The sign in the window read: "Evolution Is True. The Bible's a Lie. God's a Ghost." For this, he was charged with violating the city ordinance against blasphemy. Because he was an atheist, and therefore, wouldn't swear the court's religious oath to tell the truth, he wasn't permitted to testify in his own defense. The judge then dismissed the original charge, replacing it with one of distributing obscene, slanderous, or scurrilous literature. Smith was convicted, fined $25, and served most of a twenty-six-day jail sentence. His high-profile fast while behind bars drew national media attention.[citation needed]

Upon his release, he immediately resumed his atheistic activities, was again charged with blasphemy, and this time convicted. In his trial, he was once more denied the right to testify and was sentenced to ninety days in jail and a fine of $100. Released on $1,000 bail, Smith appealed the verdict. The case then dragged on for several years, until it was finally dismissed. Local fundamentalist Baptist minister Ben M. Bogard (known for successfully lobbying for an Arkansas state law banning the teaching of evolution in the public schools) unexpectedly defended Smith's right to free speech, believing that he could defeat him in a fair debate.[14]

Late life[edit]

In 1956 Smith published the two-volume tome Sensism: The Philosophy of the West, promoting a pure atheistic philosophy, viewing all supernatural religions and thought patterns as rubbish.[citation needed]

During the 1959–1963 proceedings of Murray v. Curlett, Smith provided financial assistance to Madalyn Murray O'Hair to cover part of the case's legal expenses; he said that he had also provided assistance to Vashti McCollum in her 1945–1947 case.[15]

Smith died on October 26, 1964 in San Diego, California.[16]


  1. ^ Jackson Jr., John P (2005). Science for Segregation: Race, Law, and the Case against Brown v. Board of Education. NYU Press. pp. 55–58. ISBN 9780814743829.
  2. ^ "December 16, 1927; The Indiana Gazette from Indiana, Pennsylvania; Page 7". Retrieved 2017-07-17.
  3. ^ Kingman, George A. (1929) God is an Antedote for the Poisonous Propaganda for the Advancement of Atheism, Inc. Cincinnati, OH. F.L. Rowe.
  4. ^ "The Four A's", John Maguire in "The Modern Schoolman" Volume 4, Issue 5, February 1928; (doi:10.5840/schoolman19284570)
  5. ^ Queen Silver: The Godless Girl, by Wendy McElroy, Prometheus Books, 2000.
  6. ^ University of Rochester History: Chapter 24, retrieved 2015-07-30
  7. ^ "Rochester Students Form Atheist Society; Thirteen in University Organize as 'Damned Souls' to 'Abolish Belief in God.'", The New York Times, March 4, 1926.
  8. ^ "Queen Silver" bio, p. 98
  9. ^ "Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America", Matthew Avery Sutton, pp 216
  10. ^ The Pittsburgh Press, March 18, 1934
  11. ^ "List of Past Presidents". Truth Seeker Company. Archived from the original on 2010-06-18.
  12. ^ Jackson Jr., John P (2005). Science for Segregation: Race, Law, and the Case against Brown v. Board of Education. NYU Press. pp. 55–58. ISBN 9780814743829.
  13. ^ "Blasphemy" in Tom Flynn, editor, The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief, p. 147. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2007.
  14. ^ "Smith, Charles Lee" In Gordon Stein, editor, The Encyclopedia of Unbelief, pp. 633-634. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1985.
  15. ^ Bryan F. Le Beau, The Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair (2005), p. 55
  16. ^ The Truth Seeker 91, no. 11 (November 1964)

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