Quotations about   oppression

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Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Jeremiah 22:3 [NRSV]
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Alt. trans.: "Thus saith the Lord; Execute ye judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place." [KJV]

Alt. trans.: "I, the Lord, command you to do what is just and right. Protect the person who is being cheated from the one who is cheating him. Do not mistreat or oppress aliens, orphans, or widows; and do not kill innocent people in this holy place." [GNT]
Added on 27-May-19 | Last updated 27-May-19
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Experience declares that man is the only animal which devours its own kind; for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich upon the poor.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Col. Edward Carrington (16 Jan 1787)
Added on 26-Oct-18 | Last updated 26-Oct-18
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It is not a threat but a fact of history that if an oppressed people’s pent-up emotions are not nonviolently released, they will be violently released. So let the Negro march. Let him make pilgrimages to city hall. Let him go on freedom rides. And above all, make an effort to understand why he must do this. For if his frustration and despair are allowed to continue piling up, millions of Negroes will seek solace and security in black-nationalist ideologies. And this, inevitably, would lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Playboy interview (Jan 1965)
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Added on 13-Apr-18 | Last updated 13-Apr-18
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Sure, there are differences in degree, but we’ve got to stop comparing wounds and go out after the system that does the wounding.

Florynce "Flo" Kennedy (1916-2000) American lawyer, feminist, civil rights activist
(Attributed)

Quoted in Gloria Steinem, "The Verbal Karate of Florynce R. Kennedy, Esq.," Ms. (Mar 1973).
Added on 14-Aug-17 | Last updated 14-Aug-17
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History unfortunately leaves some people oppressed and some people oppressors. And there are three ways that individuals who are oppressed can deal with their oppression. One of them is to rise up against their oppressors with physical violence and corroding hatred. But oh this isn’t the way. For the danger and the weakness of this method is its futility. Violence creates many more social problems than it solves. And I’ve said, in so many instances, that as the Negro, in particular, and colored peoples all over the world struggle for freedom, if they succumb to the temptation of using violence in their struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and our chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos. Violence isn’t the way.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Loving Your Enemies,” Sermon, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery (17 Nov 1957)
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Added on 14-Jul-17 | Last updated 14-Jul-17
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Don’t agonize, organize.

Florynce "Flo" Kennedy (1916-2000) American lawyer, feminist, civil rights activist
(Attributed)
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Quoted in Gloria Steinem, "The Verbal Karate of Florynce R. Kennedy, Esq.," Ms. (Mar 1973).
Added on 10-Jul-17 | Last updated 10-Jul-17
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The saddest thing in my life was when I discovered that people can get their freedom from colonial masters and find themselves unfree.

Joshua Nkomo (1917-1999) Zimbawean politician, trade unionist, guerrilla leader
In The Observer (UK) (22 Apr 1984)
Added on 4-Jul-17 | Last updated 4-Jul-17
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We must not seek to use our emerging freedom and our growing power to do the same thing to the white minority that has been done to us for so many centuries. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man. We must not become victimized with a philosophy of black supremacy. God is not interested merely in freeing black men and brown men and yellow men, but God is interested in freeing the whole human race.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Give Us the Ballot,” Speech, Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, Washington, DC (1957)
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Added on 16-Jun-17 | Last updated 16-Jun-17
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Oppressed people are frequently very oppressive when first liberated. And why wouldn’t they be? They know best two positions. Somebody’s food on their neck or their foot on somebody’s neck.

Florynce "Flo" Kennedy (1916-2000) American lawyer, feminist, civil rights activist
“Institutionalized Oppression vs. the Female” (1970)
Added on 17-Apr-17 | Last updated 17-Apr-17
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The more laws and orders are made prominent,
The more thieves and bandits there will be.

Lao-tzu (604?-531? BC) Chinese philosopher, poet [also Lao-tse, Laozi]
Tao-te Ching, ch. 57 [tr. Wing-Tsit Chan]
Added on 12-Apr-17 | Last updated 19-Apr-17
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Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion. Such a religion is the kind the Marxists like to see — an opiate of the people.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Stride Toward Freedom (1958)
Added on 24-Mar-17 | Last updated 24-Mar-17
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Democ’acy gives every man
The right to be his own oppressor.

James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) American diplomat, essayist, poet
The Bigalow Papers, Second Series, “Ef I a song or two could make,” l. 97 (1867)
Added on 13-Mar-17 | Last updated 13-Mar-17
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One major and fundamental guarantee of protracted freedom is the unfettered right of the man to write as he sees fit, as his conscience indicates, as his mood dictates, as his cause cries out for. The moment you begin to censor the writer — and history bears this out in the ugliest of fashions — so begins a process of decay in the body politic that ultimately leads to disaster. What begins with a blue pencil — for whatever reason — very often ends in a concentration camp.

It has forever been thus: So long as men write what they think, then all of the other freedoms — all of them — may remain intact. And it is then that writing becomes a weapon of truth, an article of faith, an act of courage.

Rod Serling (1924-1975) American screenwriter, playwright, television producer, narrator
Speech (1975)
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Added on 2-Feb-17 | Last updated 2-Feb-17
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Ignorance is king. Many would not profit by his abdication. Many enrich themselves by means of his dark monarchy. They are his Court, and in his name they defraud and govern, enrich themselves and perpetuate their power. Even literacy they fear, for the written word is another channel of communication that might cause their enemies to become united. Their weapons are keen-honed, and they use them with skill. They will press the battle upon the world when their interests are threatened, and the violence which follows will last until the structure of society as it now exists is leveled to rubble, and a new society emerges. I am sorry: But that is how I see it.

Walter M. Miller Jr. (1923-1996) American science fiction writer
A Canticle for Leibowitz, “Fiat Lux,” ch. 20 (1959)
Added on 25-Jan-17 | Last updated 25-Jan-17
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It is necessary to stifle the domestic and foreign enemies of the Republic or perish with them. Now, in these circumstances, the first maxim of our politics ought to be to lead the people by means of reason and the enemies of the people by terror … The basis of popular government in time of revolution is both virtue and terror. Terror without virtue is murderous, virtue without terror is powerless. Terror is nothing else than swift, severe, indomitable justice — it flows, then, from virtue.

Maximilien Robespierre (1758-174) French lawyer, politician, revolutionary leader
Speech, National Convention (7 May 1794)
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Added on 16-Jan-17 | Last updated 16-Jan-17
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Being a lover of freedom, when the revolution came in Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but, no, the universities immediately were silenced. Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks. Then I looked to individual writers who, as literary guides of Germany, had written much and often concerning the place of freedom in modern life; but they, too, were mute.

Only the church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing truth. I never had any special interest in the church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
(Disputed)

Regarding the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. Originally attributed in S. Parkes Cadman, "The Conflict Between Church And State In The Third Reich," La Crosse Tribune and Leader-Press (28 Oct 1934), noted as a "free translation" made by a colleague of the writer. Made famous in being quoted in Time (23 Dec 1940). Einstein himself said that he'd said something like this to a journalist, noting that the only German intellectuals supporting individual rights and intellectual freedom in the early Nazi regime were a few churchmen. He later suggested that his words on the matter had been significantly exaggerated, and issued much more critical statements about how the Catholic Church, in particular, had been silent or collaborated with the Nazi regime. More discussion here and here.
Added on 23-Nov-16 | Last updated 23-Nov-16
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Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, had always been the systematic organization of hatreds.

Henry Adams (1838-1918) American journalist, historian, academic, novelist
The Education of Henry Adams, ch. 1 (1907)

Restated by George Will in saying that the value of political parties was that "They organize our animosities." Interview, The Colbert Report (3 Jun 2008) at 6:43.
Added on 13-Oct-16 | Last updated 26-Oct-18
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The old century is very nearly out, and leaves the world in a pretty pass, and the British Empire is playing the devil in it as never an empire before on so large a scale. We may live to see its fall. All the nations of Europe are making the same hell upon earth in China, massacring and pillaging and raping in the captured cities as outrageously as in the Middle Ages. The Emperor of Germany gives the word for slaughter and the Pope looks on and approves. In South Africa our troops are burning farms under Kitchener’s command, and the Queen and the two houses of Parliament, and the bench of bishops thank God publicly and vote money for the work. The Americans are spending fifty millions a year on slaughtering the Filipinos; the King of the Belgians has invested his whole fortune on the Congo, where he is brutalizing the Negroes to fill his pockets. The French and Italians for the moment are playing a less prominent part in the slaughter, but their inactivity grieves them. The whole white race is reveling openly in violence, as though it had never pretended to be Christian. God’s equal curse be on them all! So ends the famous nineteenth century into which we were so proud to have been born.

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (1840-1922) English poet, critic, horse breeder
My Diaries, 1888-1914, 22 Dec 1900 (1921)
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Added on 26-May-16 | Last updated 26-May-16
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The central belief of every moron is that he is the victim of a mysterious conspiracy against his common rights and true desserts. He ascribes all his failure to get on in the world, all of his congenital incapacity and damnfoolishness, to the machinations of werewolves assembled in Wall Street, or some other such den of infamy. If these villains could be put down, he holds, he would at once become rich, powerful and eminent. Nine politicians out of every ten, of whatever party, live and have their being by promising to perform
this putting down. In brief, they are knaves who maintain themselves by preying on the idiotic vanities and pathetic hopes of half-wits.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
Baltimore Evening Sun (15 Jun 1936)
Added on 8-Mar-16 | Last updated 8-Mar-16
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The oppression of women knows no ethnic nor racial boundaries, true, but that does not mean it is identical within those boundaries.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
“An Open Letter to Mary Daly” (6 May 1979)
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Added on 29-Feb-16 | Last updated 29-Feb-16
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If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have paradise in a few years.

Russell - happiness unhappiness paradise - wist_info quote

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
New York Times (18 May 1961)
Added on 4-Feb-16 | Last updated 4-Feb-16
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For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
“The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” (1979)
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Added on 1-Feb-16 | Last updated 1-Feb-16
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The history of the Jews also shows that oppression and persecution are far more efficacious in binding a nation together than community of interest and national prosperity. Increase of wealth divides rather than unites a people; but suffering shared in common binds it together with hoops of steel.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
“Patriotism,” Outspoken Essays: First Series (1915)
Added on 18-Jan-16 | Last updated 18-Jan-16
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The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations that we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us.

Lorde - piece of the oppressor - wist_info quote

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
“Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” Copeland Colloquium, Amherst College (Apr 1980)

Reprinted in Sister Outsider (1984)
Added on 11-Jan-16 | Last updated 11-Jan-16
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Let no man pull you so low as to make you hate him.

Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) American educator, writer
(Attributed)

Quoted in Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom, ch. 6 (1958).
Added on 8-Dec-15 | Last updated 8-Dec-15
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When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out “stop!”
When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible.
When sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer heard.
The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) German poet, playwright, director, dramaturgist
“When evil-doing comes like falling rain [Wenn die Untat kommt, wie der Regen fällt]” (1935) [tr. Willett]
Added on 19-Nov-15 | Last updated 19-Nov-15
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POLLY PEACHUM: The law is simply and solely made for the exploitation of those who do not understand it or of those who, for naked need, cannot obey it.

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) German poet, playwright, director, dramaturgist
Die Dreigroschenoper [The Three-Penny Opera], Act 3, sc. 1 (1928)

Alt. trans.: "The law was made for one thing alone, for the exploitation of those who don't understand it, or are prevented by naked misery from obeying it."
Added on 1-Oct-15 | Last updated 1-Oct-15
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Find out just what any people will quietly submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) American abolitionist, orator, writer
Speech on West India Emancipation (4 Aug 1857)
Added on 10-Sep-15 | Last updated 10-Sep-15
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Silence is the first thing within the power of the enslaved to shatter. From that shattering, everything else spills forth.

Robin Morgan (b. 1941) American poet, author, activist, journalist
The Demon Lover, ch. 10 (1989)
Added on 14-Aug-14 | Last updated 14-Aug-14
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Would you deliver people into bondage? Persuade them to despise one another, destroy their mutual respect.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) French politician, economist, philospher, anarchist
Of Justice in the Revolution and the Church [De la justice dans la révolution et dans l’Eglise] (1858)
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Gentlemen, you can never make me believe — no statute can ever convince me, that there is any infinite Being in this universe who hates an honest man. It is impossible to satisfy me that there is any God, or can be any God, who holds in abhorrence a soul that has the courage to express his thought. Neither can the whole world convince me that any man should be punished, either in this world or in the next, for being candid with his fellow-men. If you send men to the penitentiary for speaking their thoughts, for endeavoring to enlighten their fellows, then the penitentiary will become a place of honor, and the victim will step from it — not stained, not disgraced, but clad in robes of glory.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Trial of C.B. Reynolds for blasphemy (May 1887)
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Added on 22-Feb-12 | Last updated 18-Apr-16
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What is blasphemy? I will give you a definition; I will give you my thought upon this subject. What is real blasphemy?
To live on the unpaid labor of other men — that is blasphemy.
To enslave your fellow-man, to put chains upon his body — that is blasphemy.
To enslave the minds of men, to put manacles upon the brain, padlocks upon the lips — that is blasphemy.
To deny what you believe to be true, to admit to be true what you believe to be a lie — that is blasphemy.
To strike the weak and unprotected, in order that you may gain the applause of the ignorant and superstitious mob — that is blasphemy.
To persecute the intelligent few, at the command of the ignorant many — that is blasphemy.
To forge chains, to build dungeons, for your honest fellow-men — that is blasphemy.
To pollute the souls of children with the dogma of eternal pain — that is blasphemy.
To violate your conscience — that is blasphemy.
The jury that gives an unjust verdict, and the judge who pronounces an unjust sentence, are blasphemers.
The man who bows to public opinion against his better judgment and against his honest conviction, is a blasphemer.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Trial of C.B. Reynolds for blasphemy (May 1887)
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Added on 15-Feb-12 | Last updated 9-Feb-16
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To accept passively an unjust system is to cooperate with that system; thereby the oppressed become as evil as the oppressor. Non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. The oppressed must never allow the conscience of the oppressor to slumber. Religion reminds every man that he is his brother’s keeper. To accept injustice or segregation passively is to say to the oppressor that his actions are morally right. It is a way of allowing his conscience to fall asleep. At this moment the oppressed fails to be his brother’s keeper. So acquiescence — while often the easier way — is not the moral way. It is the way of the coward.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Stride Toward Freedom, ch. 11 “Three Ways of Meeting Oppression” (1958)
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Added on 6-Dec-11 | Last updated 4-Jul-17
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Nature is often hidden, sometimes overcome, seldome extinguished. Force maketh nature more violent in the return.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
“Of Nature in Men,” Essays, No. 38 (1625)
Added on 17-Nov-11 | Last updated 16-May-16
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Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.
What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Isaiah 10:1-3 (NIV)

Alt. trans:
  • GNB: "You are doomed! You make unjust laws that oppress my people. That is how you keep the poor from having their rights and from getting justice. That is how you take the property that belongs to widows and orphans. What will you do when God punishes you? What will you do when he brings disaster on you from a distant country? Where will you run to find help? Where will you hide your wealth?"
  • KJV: "Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed; To turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless! And what will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the desolation which shall come from far? to whom will ye flee for help? and where will ye leave your glory?"
Added on 25-Apr-11 | Last updated 26-Oct-18
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I fear that in this world one must be either hammer or anvil.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Philosophical Dictionary, “Tyranny” (1764) [tr. Gay (1962)]
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Alt. trans.: "In this world we run the risk of having to choose between being either the anvil or the hammer." [Baskin (1961)]
Added on 12-Mar-09 | Last updated 31-Oct-14
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No orthodox church ever had power that it did not endeavor to make people think its way by force and flame.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Trial of C.B. Reynolds for blasphemy (May 1887)
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Added on 19-Jun-08 | Last updated 9-Feb-16
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How has the church in every age, when in authority, defended itself? Always by a statute against blasphemy, against argument, against free speech. And there never was such a statute that did not stain the book that it was in and that did not certify to the savagery of the men who passed it.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Trial of C.B. Reynolds for blasphemy (May 1887)
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Added on 28-Mar-08 | Last updated 9-Feb-16
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Let’s never forget that we ALL have aspects about us which could cause us to find ourselves on the sharp-edged side of the razorwired fence should the winds of mass hysteria, whipped up from public opinion by demagogues, shift.

Other Authors and Sources
Bruce Little, Belief-L
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 13-Apr-14
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