Speech by Philippe Besson





Citizens, Friends, Fellows and Comrades, as we say in France.

It’s a great honour and a real pleasure to be with you today, here in Abington square in the heart of Northampton, a working class town.

On behalf of the French National Federation of Freethought, la Libre Pensée, we have to pay tribute to the great Charles Bradlaugh for 3 reasons at least.

As you know, Charles Bradlaugh was a radical republican Member of Parliament for this Northampton constituency. For many years during the Napoleon III‘s Empire, the word Republican forbidden in France was replaced by radical. Bradlaugh, fluent in French, was in strong connection with French political exiles in Britain as Louis Blanc, or Elisee Reclus geographer and anarchist.

As it has been told during the lecture, Charles Bradlaugh was a Mason. Initiated in the Order of Memphis in 1859, he joined the High Cross Lodge of the United Grand Lodge of England which he resigned in 1874 due to the election of Prince of Wales as Grand Master. Soon after Bradlaugh was affiliated in the Lodge Union & Perseverance, Grand Orient of France in Paris..

But last but least, Charles Bradlaugh, a Freethinker, founded in 1866 the National Secular Society here in Britain, the sister organization of la Libre Pensée. I’m deeply glad to salute its chairman, Terry Sanderson standing here in front of this statue.

Soon after that, Bradlaugh was the cornerstone of the founding of the first International Association of Freethought in Brussels, in 1880, along with men as Karl Liebknecht, the German revolutionary, Cesar de Paepe a leader of the Belgian Labour Party, and Ferdinand Buisson future founding father of the 1905 Law of Separation of Church & State in France.

His daughter Hypatia Bradlaugh, and mainly his grandson Charles Bradlaugh-Bonner, both leaders of the NSS, were also deeply involved in the international Freethought movement from an International Congress in London in 1938 to his death in 1966.

The World Union of Freethinkers suffered both World War II and the Cold War, and we deeply agree to this statement made in 1952 by Frank Ridley, then Chairman of the NSS : “Freethought has no fought Rome and Ancient Regimes for centuries to surrender today in front of Franco or Staline”

After decades of division or isolation, the strong efforts of leaders of both NSS and la Libre Pebnsée gave the opportunity to launch a new International Association of Freethought in a congress held in Oslo in August 2011, where our longtime friend Keith Porteus Wood present today was elected as one of the international spokespersons.

To conclude, we are optimistic in the real and worldwide need for full Freedom of Conscience by a strict Separation of Church & State.

We’re optimistic when we saw the result of Irish Referendum on marriage for all in deeply catholic ruled country…

We are optimistic when we saw 20.000 citizens shouting out in the streets of London “Make the Pope pay!” and so on…

So we will organize in September 2017 in Paris the 7th World Congress of Freethought to continue to organize these struggles. You are all invited.

Warmful thanks and congratulations to the Charles Bradlaugh Society for this memorable day.

Thanks for your welcome.


Philippe Besson