AOF Activities & Events
Mainly a French observance, Chevalier de la Barre Day is for all who opposes religious oppression, marking the execution of the Chevalier de la Barre for impiety.
On July 1, 1766, church authorities tortured and killed young Jean-Francois de la Barre (the "Chevalier de la Barre" because he held the title of Chevalier or "knight") for impiety. His reputed "crimes" included not doffing his hat at a religious procession, singing bawdy songs, and the possession of banned books by Voltaire, a famed writer of his day and a leading critic of the Catholic Church. An outraged Voltaire made the execution a cause célèbre, haunted by "this sentence so execrable, and at the same time so absurd, which is an eternal disgrace to France," because a key piece of evidence used against La Barre was La Barre's possession of Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary.
The Chevalier and two young friends had been accused of defacing a crucifix in the French town of Abbeville. None saw this happen, but local clergy harassed and harrangued the villagers until a few, fearing excommunication, vaguely recalled three youths who had not removed their hats at a recent Catholic procession. They pointed out La Barre and his friends. Once charged, one of the youths fled to Holland, and one (only 15 years old) was simply fined. Only the 19 year old La Barre remained. A search of his home turned up three forbidden books. The courts and the church decided they had their ideal suspect. Mercilessly they tortured him, cut out his tongue, then decapitated him. Eventually they burned his body on a pyre along with his copy of Voltaire's book.
In 1905, a statue of Jean-Francois, Chevalier de la Barre was built in Montmartre, on the outskirts of Paris. In 1941, Nazi collaborationists removed it and melted down for munitions for the war effort – while leaving statues of saints and kings intact.
In France, Chevalier de la Barre Day often features demonstrations in his memory. Today, freethinkers in France and the West experience great freedom in their lives, but in other cultures still torture and kill freethinkers and disidents for their beliefs. Chevalier de la Barre Day is therefore a day to remember all those men and women persecuted by religion, and to campaign for the rights of those persecuted today. For more information, see: Chevalier de la Barre.