Charles Chilton Moore Pt. 2: American Atheist


By eighteen ninety five fifty eight-year-old Charles Chilton Moor had been arrested three times comes in relation to his atheist newspaper Blue Grass Blade. The first arrest came in March of eighteen ninety two when Moore aired the scandals goals of pastor. John Sweeney's church in return. The pastor slapped him with a libel charge. It incensed more than a church could order someone to be arrested. He refused to even offer a defense in court as an act of protest he was ultimately found. Guilty and sentenced tends to two months in jail. However his imprisonment only brought more national attention to his cause and strengthened his resolve to continue publishing regardless of the consequences two years later that resolve was tested again when another minister had him arrested posted this time for blasphemy in this instance more wouldn't even pay the bond. He sat in jail for three months before for the charges. Were entirely thrown out. It turned out. Blasphemy wasn't even a crime in Kentucky emboldened. Moore published just an advertisement in eighteen ninety five that advocated for the use of contraception one of the most contentious topics of the time Moore was basically asking for a legal challenge and he got one this time on the federal level he was charged and convicted of of mailing obscene materials. The judge offered more a choice he could pay a huge fine enough to bankrupt him and his newspaper her or he could promise to never publish anything considered obscene again. Surprisingly more agreed to the ladder after this last court case the editor moved his publishing shop out of Kentucky to the border town of Cincinnati Ohio. Oh he hoped this move would help him avoid future prosecutions but the Ohio River would not protect him and neither would would the first amendment. How should we determine a person's guilt. Do we defer to the evidence discovered by police or the verdict reached by a jury and what happens is when the evidence and the verdict don't line up hi. I'm Vanessa Richardson and this is not guilty apar- cast original each week we look could complicated criminal cases that test the limits of innocent until proven guilty at par cast. Were grateful for you our listeners. You allow us to do what we love. Let us know how we're doing reach out on facebook and Instagram at podcast and twitter at podcast network and if you enjoyed today's episode the best way to help us to leave a five star review wherever you're listening. It really does help us today. We're continuing our discussion of Charles Else Chilton more and his Atheist Prohibition newspaper Blue Grass Blade last week we followed Moore's early arrests for libel blasphemy blasphemy and mailing obscene material charges that were entirely brought by church leaders. This week will examine the case that allowed more to do what he he really wanted. All along challenge the boundaries of the First Amendment when fifty seven seven year old Charles Chilton Moor stood in front of Judge John Bar in July eighteen ninety five he still cut an imposing figure his hair and beard were grade but his farmers build made him the largest man in the room however he seemed to shrink a little at sentencing he had to promise not to publish anything related to birth control methods again in exchange. The judge wouldn't make him pay. Hey the fine it was the first and only time he ever agreed to restrict the content of his writing in truth. It wasn't much of a choice. The one thousand dollar fine levied would bankrupt him if he refused and Blue Grass Blade would be silenced in totality so more abandoned the contraception 'cause turning his attention back to more traditional free thought values advocating for Prohibition Civil Rights Rights and suffrage and of course critiquing religion over the years Baptist prohibitionist James Rucker wrote letters to Charles Charles Moore offering counterpoint to the anti religion articles in Bluegrass blade more published ruckers letters and then responded to them in in the letters to the editor section of the paper. The two men had a contentious relationship but also a mutual respect for the other one's ability to reason more saw rucker as a man of integrity of value. He honored above all else that changed. Suddenly when sometime between his arrest in eighteen ninety five and mid eighteen ninety seven sixty eight year old rucker accepted a sizable Zabol donation about two hundred thousand dollars today for his college and Church. This gift came from a liquor distiller to more for a prohibitionist. Accepting money from alcohol. Sales was the height of hypocrisy. Any courtesy had previously shown his longtime sparring partner her was gone. He blasted rucker in the pages of Blue Grass. Blade Rucker was understandably embarrassed by the coverage however there was no legal action he could take nothing more said in the article was factually untrue so he couldn't sue for libel but more often publish things that pushed the limits of decency so rucker simply bided his time combing the pages of each new issue of the blade waiting for more to slip up in the summer of eighteen ninety seven more now nearly six st published an essay about the concept of Free Love Free Love was a topic widely debated in the free thought community more had historically shortly been against sex outside of marriage but in this article he began reasoning in its favour more ventured that if men and women were allowed to enjoy joy the intellectual qualities of each other prior to marriage. Perhaps they should be able to enjoy sex in the same way for more. This essay essay was simply asking the question of free love not advocating for it but this frank discussion of sexual relationships in the pages of a newspaper deeper was unheard of in the region. One of the scandalized readers was F r feel end a longtime supporter of the blade he wrote the letter to the editor chiding more for publishing the essay more responded to the letter in the next edition on October third word 1897 he doubled down writing that he would rather not print the blade at all then sensor his words on the the topic of sexual relations. He should print what everyone is thinking. James Rucker had finally gotten what he wanted. Not only he had more written about sex outside of marriage. He just admitted he intended to continue doing so once again he had gone too too far. Rucker took the articles to federal court. He swore out a warrant for Moore's arrest for mailing obscene materials for the second second time in two years Charles Chilton Moor was arrested on obscenity charges his printer James Hughes was also arrested said F R Phelan the same man who helped ignite this firestorm with his letter to the editor offered to represent both men pro bono. Oh James Hughes accepted the help more did not he was going to represent himself. The trial was held in Cincinnati Ohio in February eighteen ninety nine in his opening statement prosecutor and District Attorney William Bundy referred to sixty two year old Moore as the editor of a free love paper more jumps to his feet to object jacked. His paper had run only two pieces on free love in the fifteen years since its first issue. The characterization was inaccurate presiding judge Albert Thompson told him to sit down. He was not allowed to object to an opening statement. The trial had barely begun and and more had already annoyed the judge with this violation of courtroom decorum. It was an omen of what was to follow after his opening prosecutor. Bundy called his first witness. It was the same man who had sworn out the warrant against Moore Seventy one year old pastor James Rucker he restated the evidence against Moore identifying the two issues of blue grass blade that advocated for free love there was nothing to object to Bundy was simply presenting the truth therefore more had only only one goal as he rose to cross examine rucker. He was determined to dispel the characterization that the blade was a free love paper as has charged by the prosecution but rucker was evasive. He claimed he didn't know what the paper advocated even though anyone in Kentucky could have the answer that it was a pro atheism and prohibitionist paper the harder more pressed rucker the more the prosecution objected when it was clear more was not going to get the answers he was after Judge Thomson stopped the Cross examination. He dismissed Rucker from the stand. Stand more frustrated blurted out that if rucker would tell the truth he could prove his case. A defendant arguing with the judge judge was not something. Thomson would tolerate after a lecture from the bench about courtroom. Decorum Thompson told more he could question rucker again then when it was his turn to present his case when the prosecution rested a few hours later more did just that he stood stood and called James Rucker back to the stand as his first witness but rocker wasn't there up next Charles Moore attempts to argue his case without his soul witness. VH1's true crime docu series cartel crew returns Monday October seventh while the past generation of narcos might be dead. The cartel is is still alive this season. The crew is crossing into new territory. Don't miss the new season Monday October seventh at nine eight central on owned. VH1 now back to the story in February of eighteen ninety nine sixty two year old Charles Chilton Moor defended himself against federal obscenity charges these were the most serious charges he ever faced and the stakes were high a conviction conviction could mean a large fine jail time or both more opened his defense by attempting to call his accuser James Sukkur back to the stand but the man was gone prosecutor. William Bundy explained that Rucker lived seventy miles away say he had already left for the return journey half an hour before Moore was furious he had been told by Judge Thompson that he could question Chen Rucker again but the court let him leave. The city more demanded that a court officer chase after rucker but the judge denied at his request it was time to proceed with his case. Unfortunately James Rucker was Moore's only witness. He rested his case without calling any witnesses and Judge Thompson recessed court for lunch during the break. A man man named Dr John Wilson Approached the Prosecutor District Attorney William Bundy Dr Wilson was a member of the free thought community and had watched the trial all morning he was also a longtime subscriber to the Blade Wilson explained to Bundy that the newspaper was not a free love paper paper as Bundy told jurors the only two articles that seemed in favor of free love were the two rucker complained about out of fairness Wilson. Listen hoped Bundy would clarify this in court when Bundy began his summation lunch he did just this. He told the jury sorry he had just learned that blue grass blade was not in fact of free love paper. He said that he had not meant to mislead them but then Bundy held up the two copies of the paper for the jury he said even if the paper didn't usually advocate free love those particular issues certainly certainly did he proceeded to read to the jury the most salacious excerpts from those essays then Bundy read other articles in the paper. You purchased jurors ones that had nothing to do with the obscenity charge but railed against religion in one article more called holy the figure King Solomon a damned old son of a bitch bundy believed the combined weight of this collection of articles was enough to make the jury indict more on blasphemy charges however more had not been charged with blasphemy in fact there were no federal blasphemy laws to charge him with these additional articles were brought in Solita prejudice the Christian men on the jury against the defendant but the Judge Thompson didn't shied the district attorney for his tangential claims of blasphemy charges and more didn't know enough about the law to object when prosecutor William Bundy's sat down more finally had his chance to defend himself he he faced the jury to give his summation but in an instant his heart sank few of the men on the jury bothered to hide their disdain their minds were already made up and more knew he wasn't going to win the case on the facts. His only hope was to try to elicit some some sympathy. He tried to make the jury see him as a principled citizen. Maybe then they would find it difficult to send him away to prison he. He told them about his life. His farm his wife his responsibilities he looked them each in the eye trying to connect connect and then he watched as one of their heads bobbed their eyes closed asleep more looked over at the judge but Thompson was no help either his head was resting on his hand and his eyes were closed to when the judge woke up from his nap fifteen minutes later and realized more was still talking. He cleared his throat to interrupt. How much more time would he need more replied. He was just getting started but agreed to stop whenever Thompson told him he had to. Thompson allowed him to continue but asked him to stay on topic. Moore continued his closing this time focusing on the content of of his paper after fifteen minutes thompson cut him off again. He was out of time one trial observer. Dr John Wilson later wrote that he had never before seen a defendant treated so poorly the jury deliberated for just five five minutes they found Charles more guilty of obscenity as they led him to the holding cell in an adjacent room more or yelled. You are not shackling me. You are shackling American liberty the next day a calmer more return to court to hear his sentence he was allowed to make a statement before Judge Thompson ruled on his punishment but to do so he had to be sworn in typically this oath to tell the truth is made with one hand on the Bible but when the court officer took a step towards more holy book in hand the atheist refused to take an oath that required him to swear to God he didn't believe in he wanted to affirm instead giving an affirmation has the same effect as swearing an oath. It's a promise to tell the truth though this right to affirm was granted by the Constitution Russian Judge Thompson referred to Moore's request as trifling he begrudgingly ordered that more be affirmed and let him speak speak more told the judge that the obscenity charge against him was false but as he was found guilty he asked for mercy he wouldn't be able to pay a hefty fine because he refused to raise horses for betting or sell corn to liquor distillers. His farm arm made very little money he also asked that whatever the punishment it would fall on him rather than on his printer. James Hughes who would be tried later on the same charge. Judge Thompson told more that he knew he was breaking the law when he printed his paper more simply replied that he was proud out of everything he had done then the judge sentenced more to two years in the Ohio State Penitentiary the the sentence sent shockwaves through the room but no one was more alarmed then Charles Moore he was always willing to sit in lockup for a few months at a time time to draw attention to his fight for freedom of religion and the press but two years in state prison at the age of sixty two was another matter entirely highly more was taken from the courtroom to aside room where his family and supporters could visit him for a few minutes among them was Moore's twenty eighty five year old son Leland more saw the shock and anger and Leland's is a mirror of his own. He begged his son not not to attempt to retaliate against rucker as he feared he might. He told him to go back to the farm and help take care of the family. One supporter quarter who did not stay to talk to Moore was Dr James Wilson instead he immediately went to the Office of Da William Bundy to ask this cow he could file an appeal on Moore's behalf the prosecutor suggested Wilson find a lawyer to help him but warned they didn't have a chance more had been convicted because he was guilty of the crime. Dr Wilson immediately hurried off to meet with members of the Ohio Liberal Society of Free Thought Organization. They quickly pulled money in the hope that they could get more out on bond pending an appeal. Dr Wilson rushed back to court and our later money in hand but more was gone already on his journey to the prison in Columbus Dumbass over one hundred miles away but if Judge Thompson or da William Bundy thought a prison and sell would put a muzzle on Charles Moore Day. Were sorely mistaken without a farm to run more found. He had even more time to write because his printer James Hughes was led off with a light fine. He continued publishing blue grass blade during Moore's first months in prison awesome in addition to writing essays for the blade. He penned a memoir titled. Behind the bars three one four nine eight the digits indicated his prison identification number while more blackened pages imprison the Ohio Liberal Society worked just as hard to file for an appeal. They needed to find an error in the proceedings that they could use to mount out a retrial Bundy's false blasphemy. Accusations may have been an easy target. Unfortunately more didn't object to them. During the trial had he objected and the judge overruled him he could have appealed the judge's decision but he couldn't appeal his own decision not to object it. Finally they settled on the judge and Jer Falling Asleep during Moore's closing statement as the basis of their argument. It was the clearest I error they could find but before the appeal was filed another path out of prison appeared this effort was spearheaded by an unlikely ally Ordained Minister Robert Charles O'Hara Benjamin Benjamin in addition to being a minister worked as editor of Lexington Standard one of the most notable African American newspapers of its day though the exact reasons why are unknown own more felt. Benjamin's coverage of his trial was unfair and biased in typical Charles Moore fashion he responded from behind bars with bitter criticism in the pages of the Blade Benjamin read. Moore's response and issued a genuine public apology. He pointed out that when Moore was a young minister before the civil war he denounced slavery even though his church supported it Benjamin wrote that anyone who spoke against slavery before the war should be regarded as a friend. Moore wasn't just against slavery it was the first issue that sewed his doubts about the Bible and led him to atheism in his Church of Christ faith more was taught to take every word of the Bible as fact including I timothy which commanded those who are enslaved to respect their masters they they are to serve kind owners well on account of that kindness. It goes on to say quote. These are the things you are to teach and insist on if anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to Godly teaching they are conceded and and understand nothing through the Lens of the Church of Christ not only was slavery allowed according to the Bible but it was against the Bible to teach otherwise more couldn't see how a perfect book could support such a horrible practice slavery eventually discrepancies like like these made him turn away from his faith as a Minister Lexington Standard editor Robert Benjamin disagreed with Moore's Yvonne jellicoe atheism and rude manner but as a man seeking progress for his brothers and sisters he could respect that the first thing in the Bible all that more objected to was slavery. Benjamin circulated a petition to ask for a presidential pardon on the grounds that Moore was treated treated unfairly at his trial echoing the sentiments of the Ohio Liberal Society President William McKinley declined to pardon more for but he did commute his sentence to six months with one month off for good behavior on July seventh eighteen ninety nine sixty two year old Moore was released from prison and returned to Lexington. Five months in prison did nothing to dissuade. Wade him from publishing what he wanted. In fact it had the opposite effect more was more determined than ever to fight for his. First Amendment writes on November twenty sixth eighteen ninety nine just five months after his release. Moore published an essay written by well known atheist. 'EM greer kidder titled. The Virgin Mary the article mocked the idea of the Virgin Birth of Jesus and questioned shinned. If instead of the miraculous conception Jesus was actually the illegitimate lovechild of Mary and a Roman soldier while he was lambasted by some readers as blasphemous more knew that Kentucky didn't have any laws against blasphemy so he published without fear but just because Kentucky didn't have these laws didn't mean that more felt protected the law would find a way to come after him and he would get another shot at the system up next Charles Moore or tries to get back into federal court now back to the story sixty two year old Charles Chilton Moor had spent nearly a decade in and out of court by the end of the nineteenth century he lost more often than he won but he was determined to push the limits of the First Amendment Amendment his writing had been considered blasphemous libellous and obscene to more it was no worse than many stories printed in the pages the Bible in the very early days of nineteen hundred Moore wrote to the federal judge overseeing the Western Kentucky district he asked asked if he could mark it through the mail a book entitled Extracts From The Bible the King James Version asking permission to print and mail something. Something wasn't normal procedure so judge. Walter Evans likely would have been suspicious from the start and Charles Moore's reputation preceded had him familiar with the detailed accounts of rape and incest in the Old Testament Evans had a good idea which excerpts would be included in the publication and more intended to find out if Christians had more of a right to mail the Bible than an atheist had he planned to published and mail lewd excerpts from the Bible to orchestrate a federal court case however his plan changed when fate intervened gened or rather when James Zachary C. L. Braxton James Griffith and J O seahorn intervened in February of nineteen hundred the four men individually requested a specific back copy of Blue Grass Blade they wanted the November twenty sixth eighteen ninety nine issue with 'em greer kidder's essay lampooning the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ iced. It should have seemed odd to more to receive four separate requests at the same time for the same past issue of the blade. It's possible well. He found this suspicious but chose to send the copies anyway. When the men received their copies on February sixteenth they filed filed a complaint against Moore alleging they had been sent obscene materials in the mail. Then on February twenty-second a warrant for Moore's arrest was issued by Judge Walter Evans on four charges one for each paper mailed both Moore and his printer enter James Hughes were arrested more sixty two years old and tired of jail by this point immediately posted bond the prosecution plan to approach these charges from two angles the first would be based on the article about the Virgin Mary. The second skinned was a claim that Moore had violated the court order from his first obscenity conviction by mailing additional obscene materials. If he was found guilty he would be forced to pay the one thousand dollar fine from the previous conviction in addition to a fine from the new charges this that would surely bankrupt more and finally mark the end of blue grass blade once again his fellow free thinkers came to his defense led by Josephine Henry a well known reformer in Kentucky. The committee published a proclamation in the number a free thought an infidel papers across the country asking for donations for Moore's legal fund the free thinkers framed Charles Moore's trial trial as a fight. They were all invested in. Should he lose all free thought. Publications could come under fire soon. They'd successfully fully raised enough money to hire two experienced defense attorneys for more and Hughes on October Third Nineteen Nineteen Hundred Charles Chilton Moor entered the courthouse with his new lawyer's by his side District Attorney Hill was determined in to convict more of obscenity and have his suspended sentence reinstated as it happened at Moore's previous trials. The main witnesses against against him were the men who complained about his articles. Moore's attorneys however opened their case with a motion to dismiss. They supported the request by attacking the prosecution's claim that Moore was in violation of a previous quarter. They even submitted a deposition -sition from the retired judge who issued the order stating that. Moore had fulfilled his obligations. They also argued that the article in question wasn't since obscene it was blasphemous and more had a right under the First Amendment to publish and distribute blasphemous materials after hearing the defense's argument to dismiss Judge Evans paused to consider the matter more held his breath he knew from from his past cases that a Christian jury would always find him guilty. His only hope was to keep the decision out of the hands of those twelve men then Judge Evans dismissed all the charges against Moore and Hughes his written decision Evans wrote that what more published was offensive and unpopular however the freedom to express an idea cannot be determined by how politely it is conveyed or how well it is received. Judge Evans went on to say that the Supreme Court had determined it was not enough that the materials published obscene lewd or lascivious alone they must also invite obscene lewd or lascivious obvious behavior. Evans was referring to the case of Dunlop v United States which had been upheld in the Supreme Court just three years earlier earlier in that case Joseph Dunlop was convicted on obscenity charges when his paper the Chicago dispatch ran personal ads for brothels his conviction was upheld because Dunlop was not nearly publishing obscene materials he was inviting Lewd behavior by including addresses of the brothels in question but Charles Morris critiques on religion no matter how crude did not encourage any any action on the reader's part Judge Evans stressed that his ruling must be based on the constitution he wrote. If the Christian Religion John is divine it can withstand all attacks but whether divine or not the constitution of the United States gives to all the right eight to discuss it from whatever standpoint they please and with that ruling Charles Chilton Moor was was free after eight years of legal battles more finally received the outcome. He wanted his right to criticize religion. I am the Bible was upheld in court. He was never again arrested for what he printed more continued publishing blue grass blade influencing influencing and challenging free thinkers in Kentucky and beyond. He remained the editor of the paper until his death in nineteen zero. Oh six Charles Chilton Moore wasn't the last person to challenge blasphemy laws in the United States in nineteen fifty one the New York ORC board of regents refused to allow the short film the miracle to be shown in theaters. The Italian film directed by Roberto Rossellini depicted a young woman who believed herself to be the Virgin Mary. The movie was deemed anti-catholic and sacrilegious the distributor the film Joseph Burstyn sued the case made it to the Supreme Court in Nineteen fifty two and the court ruled that motion pictures are art art and therefore protected by the First Amendment in the court's decision they wrote we hold only that under the first and Fourteenth Fourteenth amendments a state may not ban a film on the basis of a sensors conclusion that it is sacrilegious though blasphemy laws remain on the books in half a dozen states. The last blasphemy conviction in the United States was appealed seventy years ears after Charles Moore's last trial. Irving West was convicted in Maryland for disorderly conduct resisting arrest and end blasphemy in nineteen sixty eight the blasphemy charge stemmed from words he shouted at the officer while resisting arrest in which he took God's God's name in vain while West took his consequences for the first two charges. He appealed the blasphemy conviction. The Maryland Court of Appeals overturned his conviction ruling the blasphemy law unconstitutional. They determined that on the topic of religion. The court must lost remain neutral. This ruling was the outcome Charles Chilton Moore sought in the court system seventy years earlier. He endured five arrests and four trials in eight years. He spent a year in jail all combined in his fight for separation of the Church and state. He paved the way for individuals to be judged based on their crimes rather than their beliefs. Thanks for listening to not guilty. We'll be back. Thursday with a new case is to explore you can find more episodes of not guilty and all other podcast originals for free on spotify not only to spotify already have all of your favorite favorite music but now spotify making it easy for you to enjoy all of your favorite podcast originals like not guilty for free from your phone desktop or smart speaker to stream not guilty on spotify. Just open the APP and type not guilty in the search bar. Several of you have asked how to help help us. If you enjoy the show the best way to help us is to leave a five star review and don't forget to follow us on facebook and Instagram at podcast and twitter twitter at podcast network not guilty was created by Max Cutler is a production of cutler media and is part of the podcast network at work it is produced by Max Ron Cutler sound design by Andy Weights with production assistance by Ron Shapiro Paul molitor Maggie admire and Freddie Beckley. This episode of not guilty was ridden by Charlie Worrell. I'm Vanessa Richardson.

Coming up next