For the first time in its history, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is holding its national convention in Hartford, Conn.
The convention opens Friday, Oct. 7, at the Marriott Hartford Downtown and closes Sunday, Oct. 9.
The Foundation, formed in 1978, holds its annual convention every third year in its home base of Madison, Wis., and in varying cities the other two years. The state-church watchdog has more than 17,000 members nationwide and is the largest organization of atheists, agnostics and freethinkers in the U.S.
To boost its visibility in the Hartford area in advance of and during the convention, FFRF has leased space on two 14x-48-foot billboards in late September. One (off Interstate 91 just south of Weston Street) features a quote from Hartford native Katharine Hepburn: "I'm an atheist, and that's it."
The other billboard (off Interstate 84 at Olive Street) features a quote from another famous Hartford resident, Mark Twain: "Faith is believing what you know ain't so." Convention-goers can also take advantage of a shuttle that runs between the hotel and the Mark Twain House and Museum to tour the home and museum at group rates on Friday afternoon, Oct. 7, every half hour from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Convention speakers Friday include Steven Pinker, best-selling author and Harvard University evolutionary psychologist. He will talk about his new book, "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Declined." Pinker is a previous recipient of FFRF's truth-teller Emperor Has No Clothes Award. Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, a MacArthur Fellow (the "genius" grant) and author of "36 Arguments For the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction," will be named Freethought Heroine 2011. Her speech is titled “36 (Bad) Arguments For the Existence of God.”
FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor and staff attorney Patrick Elliott address the convention Saturday morning. Awards of $1,000 each will be presented to three student activists from Rhode Island, South Carolina and Ohio, and Mitch Kahle will be honored as Freethinker of the Year for his activities in Hawaii on behalf of state-church separation.
Saturday afternoon and evening speakers include musician and educator Joe Taylor, speaking about "Finding My Way By Losing It: A Christian Music Icon's Path to Disbelief." Vietnam veteran Steve Trunk will receive an Atheist in Foxhole Award as a victorious plaintiff in the California case of the Mount Soledad cross, which masqueraded for many years as a veterans memorial near San Diego.
After the banquet dinner and drawing for "godless" (pre-"In God We Trust" money), FFRF will honor two new "Emperor" awardees: Broadway composer Charles Strouse ("Annie," "Bye, Bye Birdie, "Once Upon a Time") and evolutionary biologist and author Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago. Strouse and Coyne will sign copies of their respective books, "Put on a Happy Face: A Broadway Memoir" and "Why Evolution is True."
Another annual convention highlight is the Saturday morning Non-Prayer Breakfast with its “moment of bedlam” when no heads are bowed.
People may register for the convention at the hotel, but no meal or Twain tour tickets may be purchased at the door. Those must be received by FFRF no later than Friday, Sept. 30. Call 1-800-335-4021 or register online here. Students with a valid student ID may register for free.
To receive the convention hotel rate of $159 (single, double, triple or quadruple, plus tax), call the Marriott Hartford Downtown at 1-800-335-4021 by Thursday, Sept. 22.
For more information, contact Dan Barker or Annie Laurie Gaylor at 608--256-8900.