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Atheist conference in Poland celebrates martyr

Attending the annual “Days of Atheism” conference in Warsaw, Poland, FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker were quite surprised when they learned FFRF had earned the “Atheist Organization of the Year” honor given by the Kazimierz Lyszczynski Foundation.

The conference, which ran from March 29-31, commemorated Lyszczynski, who was accused, tried and executed for atheism in 1689. At the conference, which began with a feminist opening celebrating Poland’s 100th anniversary of women’s vote, were participants from 14 countries in Europe, two from Africa, one from Asia, two from North America and two from South America.

Barker performed a ringing freethought concert on the concert grand Steinway piano in the gorgeous Mirrors Hall at Staszic Palace, following an exquisite Chopin concert by Jarred Dunn, an FFRF member who studied piano in Poland and is living in Paris.

Gaylor gave a talk about women and religion, invoking the amazing contributions of Polish Ernestine L. Rose, who became the first canvasser for women’s rights in the United States and was a heralded suffragist and 19th century atheist.

But a mile-long march leading up to a reenactment of the execution of Lyszczynski was the centerpiece of the conference.

The execution of Lyszczynski was re-enacted on the same spot on the Warsaw Market Square where it occurred. The executioner first pulled out his “blasphemous tongue,” using a burning iron, cut off the hands that wrote “unholy” words (after slowly burning them) and finally cut off his head, “where the monstrous idea of the non-existence of God was born.” Lyszczynski’s treatise, “De non-existentia Dei,” which proclaimed, “The Man is a creator of God, and God is a concept and creation of a Man,” was thrown into flames along with his mutilated body.

Unpopular among the Catholic clergy, he was excommunicated on Aug. 30, 1668. After his unpublished treatise was denounced by a neighbor who owed him a substantial amount of money, he was arrested by the bishop of Vilnius.  As a nobleman, he underwent both a parliamentary commission, and a church trial. Although the Inquisition had been abolished in Poland, inquisitors nominated by the Vatican played key roles in his prosecution. Today, not even a road is named for him in Poland.