STAGED ON THIS DAY: A MASS RALLY AGAINST SWEDEN’S LUTHERAN CHURCHON September 3, 1889, 5,000 freethinkers gathered in Lill-Jans to protest the tyranny of the Lutheran Church in Sweden.
The rally was organised by Swedish freethinker Viktor E. Lennstrand whose first public freethought lecture, “Is Christianity a Religion for our Time?”, was raided at Uppsala University by police authorities on September 25, 1886.
Lennstrand, a former evangelical Christian, was forced to resign his post at the university. Moving to Stockholm, he proceeded to give weekly freethought lectures, critical of Christianity, throughout 1887 and the spring of 1888.
That October, he was sentenced to three months for blasphemy. In November, he was sentenced to an additional three months, and in December to another six months for the same “crime”.
Lennstrand, poorly treated in prison, became perilously ill. Public outcry persuaded King Oscar II to free him. The King pardoned Lennstrand on May 2, 1889.
In addition to the mass rally Lennstrand organised in 1889, that year he collected more than 8,000 signatures by Swedes protesting against blasphemy prosecutions and censorship of freethought.
Lennstrand founded Sweden’s Fritänkaren (Freethinker) in 1889.
Following his death on October 31, 1895, an obituary in George William Foote’s Freethinker hailed him as “one of the founders and martyrs of organised Freethought in Sweden” whose “imprisonment for blasphemy, and subsequent establishment of the Fritänkaren, appealed strongly to the sympathies of English Freethinkers,” and as a man worthy of remembrance for “his sufferings and for his efforts to arouse Sweden from her pietistic lethargy.”
His death was followed by rumors spread by Christians who claimed that God had punished Lennstrand for blasphemous speech by killing him with cancer of the tongue, and that he had returned to religion during his dying moments. The Swedish historian Ulf Ilvar Nilsson dismissed this as nonsense, pointing out that doctors’ reports ruled out any problem with his oral cavity and witnesses at Lennstrand’s deathbed could describe him persevering in his atheistic convictions to the very end.