Emmy Award-winning actor Scott Clifton will welcome attendees to the Freedom From Religion Foundation's 37th annual national convention the weekend of Oct. 24-26 in Los Angeles.
Clifton starred in several network soap operas, including "One Life to Live" (fitting for skeptics!), won Daytime Emmys in 2011 and 2013 and is an outspoken atheist and host of the freethought YouTube channel “Theoretical Bullshit.” He turns 30 on Halloween.
It may also be fitting that hundreds of heathens are descending on the "City of Angels" for this year's convention at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel. FFRF is the nation's largest group of atheists, agnostics and freethinkers. Based in Madison, Wis., it advocates for state-church separation on behalf of its more than 21,000 members and seculars across the U.S.
The Biltmore Hotel is now sold out (although you may wish to check back in case of cancellations through Tuesday, Sept. 23). Try hotel.com, expedia.com and other online booking agencies. For information on nearby hotels, visit here.
Speakers and honorees will include:
• Two distinguished scientists will accept FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award, reserved for public figures who “tell it like it is” about religion. Paleoanthropologist Donald C. Johanson, discoverer of “Lucy,” author of many books and director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University in Tempe; and physicist Sean Carroll, senior research associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. Carroll is author of "The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World."
• Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California-Irvine School of Law and author of "The Conservative Assault on the Constitution," will accept a Champion of the First Amendment Award and speak on "The Vanishing Wall Separating Church and State."
• Marci Hamilton, Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University, will receive a Freethought Heroine Award. Hamilton, a constitutional scholar, is the author of "God and the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty," and wrote FFRF’s amicus brief against the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court appeal.
• Linda Stephens, an atheist and longtime FFRF member, and Susan Galloway, who identifies as a cultural Jew, will receive Freethinker of the Year awards for challenging government prayer in Greece, N.Y., all the way to the Supreme Court.
• Anthony Pinn, the first African-American to hold an endowed chair at Rice University, is professor of humanities and religious studies. His latest book is "Writing God’s Obituary: How a Good Methodist Became a Better Atheist."
• Jessica Ahlquist, student activist, will speak about "Communicating Secular Ideas with the Religious."
• Photographer Chris Johnson will discuss his coffee table book "A Better Life: 100 Atheists Speak Out on Joy & Meaning in a World Without God."
• Barbara Mancini, Philadelphia, will give a speech titled "From Accused to Activist." She was prosecuted in 2013 for handing her dying 93-year-old father his prescribed morphine. A judge threw out the case.
• FFRF Staff Attorneys Patrick Elliott, Rebecca Markert and Andrew Seidel will present legal workshops.
• FFRF Co-Presidents, and emcees Dan Barker (entertaining at the piano) and Annie Laurie Gaylor.
The conference starts Friday afternoon with workshops featuring FFRF staff attorneys and an appetizer reception from 3-5. Registration opens at 2 p.m. and continues through the convention.
The program begins formally at 7 p.m. Friday, including speakers, honorees and a complimentary dessert reception. Saturday starts with the nontraditional Non-Prayer Breakfast. An all-day program concludes after the evening keynote speech. The annual membership meeting and meeting of the State Representatives take place Sunday morning concluding by noon.
Convention highlights include the drawing for “clean” (pre-“In God We Trust”) currency and irreverent entertainment at the piano by FFRF Co-President Dan (“The Singing Atheist”) Barker.
Registration is $65 for individual FFRF member, $70 for nonmember/spouse accompanying member, $110 for nonmember. Student registration is only $10.
Go here for more convention news, including online registration and hotel information, and a complete schedule.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, on behalf of its Florida chapter and more than 21,000 members nationwide, is asking the mayor of St. Augustine to withdraw his invitation to Pope Francis to visit the city when he comes to the U.S. in 2015.
Mayor Joseph Boles issued the invitation in his official capacity and using the mayoral letterhead in a letter to Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, apostolic nuncio to the U.S. (basically, the Vatican's ambassador to the U.S.).
FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker sent a letter of complaint Sept. 22 to Boles for making the invitation, calling it "a shocking breach of your civil and secular duties as mayor and to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which you took an oath to uphold."
State-church watchdog FFRF previously protested a similar invitation made to the pope by the mayor of Green Bay, Wis.
"You were not elected bishop of St. Augustine," the letter continues. "As mayor, you serve all St. Augustine citizens — of any or of no denominations, including Jews, Wiccans, Hindus, Muslims and Protestants — and those who protest against all religions.
"A majority of your citizens do not consider the pope their Holy Father. Nor do they consider it the business of the mayor to celebrate 'the birthplace of Christianity in the New World, specifically Catholicism,' " referring to language in the mayor's invitation noting the founding of the city by Spaniards in the 16th century.
FFRF also called the invitation "fiscally reckless, given the exorbitant costs of hosting a pope, costs which invariably end up being borne by taxpayers for crowd control, police protection, etc."
The letter added, "It's bad enough to put up with the Catholic Church's harmful and antediluvian doctrines — against safe and legal abortion, contraception, gay rights, same sex marriage, the equal rights and ordination of women as priests — without citizens having to literally pay to put up the pope.
"The shameful and unremitting scandal of sexual abuse of minors within the ranks of the Catholic clergy and even more scandalous cover-ups by its highest ranking officials have tarnished dioceses through the country, and left a devastated trail of victims and their families. Nearly 100 priests have been sued or accused of such abuse in Florida, including St. Augustine. You are inviting the head of the body that not only failed to protect the children, but was complicit in their sexual and mental abuse."