The Freedom From Religion Foundation is holding its 36th national convention Sept. 27-29 in its home base of Madison, Wis., where the annual gathering of atheists, agnostics and freethinkers is held every third year. The convention opens Friday at the Concourse Hotel, 1 West Dayton St., just off the Capitol Square and State Street in downtown Madison.
While the Concourse is booked up, FFRF has arranged for alternate accommodations at other hotels (see below).
The lineup of enlightenment and entertainment includes author/activist Dan Savage and Arizona state Rep. Juan Mendez, each of whom will receive FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award, given to public figures who make known their dissent from religion.
Savage's new book of 17 essays is "American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics." Mendez made national news when he bravely delivered a freethought invocation May 21 instead of a prayer before the state House of Representatives. He asked people not to bow their heads but instead to look up and invoked Carl Sagan instead of a deity. Mendez, a first-term legislator, is an "out" atheist.
Receiving a Freethought Heroine Award will be mystery writer Sara Paretsky, an ardent supporter of state-church separation and women’s reproductive rights and creator of the famous V.I. Warshawski detective series.
IMPORTANT NOTE: For those who are unable to register for the entire convention, FFRF offers a special limited registration to hear Friday night performers (Dan Savage, Jill Sobule and Julia Sweeney, priced at $25) or the Saturday morning event with Sara Paretsky ($15).
Honored with the first Richard and Beverly Hermsen Student Activist Award of $5,000 will be Zack Kopplin, 19, a Louisiana student activist who’s made national news in his work to repeal a stealth creationism law in his home state.
Also joining the lineup will be Ellery Schempp, who instigated the lawsuit ending in the landmark 1963 Supreme Court decision Abington v. Schempp. The decision declared school bible reading and recitation of the Lord’s Prayer unconstitutional. Ellery, a retired scientist, will celebrate the decision’s 50th anniversary.
Also on hand to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the first major Supreme Court decision against religious instruction in public schools will be Jim McCollum. Jim, who teaches constitutional law, was at the center of a firestorm when his mother, Vashti McCollum, challenged religious instruction in Champaign, Ill., public schools.
Jay Rosenstein, director of the Peabody Award-winning documentary about Jim’s case, “The Lord Is Not on Trial Here Today,” will introduce his riveting 56-minute documentary.
Jill Sobule and Julia Sweeney will team up for a delightful set that mixes witty singing with social commentary. Julia is an author, playwright, actress and comedian. She’ll sign copies of her DVD “Letting Go of God” and her newest book, "If It’s Not One Thing It’s Your Mother."
Jill, who wrote the title song for “Letting Go of God,” has had a Top 40 hit, released many albums and writes commentary on Huffington Post. They’ll perform Friday night after Dan Savage and all will sign books, CDs or DVDs.
Entertaining Saturday night will be Australia’s talented young singer/songwriter Shelley Segal, who has recorded a freethought CD, “An Atheist Album.” FFRF Co-President Dan Barker will also entertain at the piano and include selections from FFRF’s new CD “Adrift on a Star” and team up with Shelley for a few songs.
Jamila Bey (Saturday morning speaker) worked for a decade as a producer and editor at National Public Radio on such shows as “Morning Edition,” “All Things Considered” and “Talk of the Nation.” She hosts “The Sex, Politics and Religion Hour: SPAR with Jamila.” It airs weekly in Washington and New York City.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel will present a Friday afternoon workshop, “Sweat the Small Stuff: Why We Must Challenge Violations of the Establishment Clause.” Staff Attorneys Patrick Elliott and Liz Cavell will present the year’s legal highlights.
Barker and Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor will present a PowerPoint of FFRF media highlights.
The convention formally opens at 7 p.m. Friday (concluding with a complimentary cake reception).
Two optional group meals are offered, the Saturday Non-Prayer Breakfast ($20 including 20% gratuity and 5.5% sales tax) and the banquet dinner ($35). Friday dinner and Saturday lunch are on your own.
The membership and board of director meetings are Sunday morning (just to be sacrilegious), adjourning by noon.
Convention registration cost for FFRF members is $65 and $110 for nonmembers. Cost for nonmember spouse or companion accompanying a member is $70. Student registration is free with an ID.
Register and access all convention information online here.
(Please book rooms now to avoid disappointment):
• Sheraton Hotel - 706 John Nolen Drive, Madison, WI 53713
$119 plus tax
The cutoff date is Sept. 15.
The free shuttle runs every 30 minutes from the Sheraton to downtown, a two-mile distance.
• Best Western Inn on the Park
22 S. Carroll St., Madison, WI 53703
$149 (one bed)
$159 (two beds)