(Pictured from left to right: Richard Dawkins, Sara Paretsky, Julia Sweeney and Jessica Ahlquist)
Statistics show about one-fourth of Oregon adults (more than 700,000 people) are nonreligious, so wouldn't it be a good place to hold a convention for religious skeptics?
Yes, says the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is holding its first national conference in Oregon in mid-October, when FFRF members and supporters gather in Portland. The impressive roster of speakers includes evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion.
FFRF, 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 almost 19,000 members nationwide and is the largest organization of atheists, agnostics and freethinkers in the U.S. It's the 35th such gathering for FFRF. Events begin Friday, Oct. 12, and conclude Sunday, Oct. 14, at the Hilton Portland & Executive Tower, 921 SW Sixth Ave. Over 400 people have already registered, so a full house is expected.
Freethought luminaries at the podium besides Dawkins will include mystery novelist Sara Paretsky, actress/ playwright Julia Sweeney, journalist Katherine Stewart (author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children), Clergy Project “graduates” Teresa MacBain, Jerry DeWitt and annalise fonza, as well as student activists Jessica Ahlquist and Max Nielson.
DeWitt, director of Recovering from Religion, openly parted with the Pentecostal ministry last year. MacBain left the Methodist ministry in March with much media attention. fonza is a former United Methodist pastor who joined the Clergy Project in July.
Ahlquist was a plaintiff in a successful ACLU federal lawsuit challenging a prayer banner at her high school in Cranston, R.I. The case caused a months-long firestorm of protest, including death threats to the diminutive 17-year-old student, who at times had to be put under police protection. Nielson is a student plaintiff in FFRF’s ongoing South Carolina lawsuit over a district policy that sanctions graduation prayer.
FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker will emcee. Barker, a "recovered" evangelist himself, will perform at the piano as “The Singing Friendly Neighborhood Atheist." Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert will discuss FFRF's legal activism. Andrew Seidel, FFRF's newest staff attorney, will debunk the "Christian Nation" myth.
It's the first appearance at an FFRF convention for Dawkins. He was scheduled to come to Madison in 2001 but canceled in the wake of 9/11. He'll receive FFRF's Emperor Has No Clothes Award for "telling it like it is" about religion.
Paretsky, who is best known for her mystery novels featuring Chicago private investigator V.I. Warshawski will receive the Freethought Heroine Award. Ahlquist will receive the Freethinker of the Year Award. Nielson will be honored as a student activist. FFRF has honored six student activists with scholarships so far this year.
Attendees can also sign up for a pre-convention tour of the gorgeous Multnomah Falls/Columbia River Gorge for $45. The full schedule, which may be updated, is here.
A Saturday special event is the "Nonprayer Breakfast," which substitutes a blasphemous "moment of bedlam" for the traditional moment of silence. (Not a single head is bowed.) Saturday evening activities include a drawing for "clean," pre-In God We Trust currency.
The Hilton room block is sold out, but rooms are available at nonconvention rates. Phone 1-503-226-1611 or book online.
Paramount: Courtesy rooms for $149 are being held for FFRF’ers at the Paramount Hotel, 808 SW Taylor St., which is across the street from the Hilton. Call 1-800-663-1144 (make sure to mention your FFRF connection). Reserve online here. Click on “reservations." The group code is PHP-GF1600.
Marriott Portland City Center: Courtesy rooms for $143 are available to FFRF’ers at the Marriott, which is a block or two away from the Hilton. Call 1-888-236-2427 (ask for Portland Marriott City Center, 520 Southwest Broadway, Portland, Ore.) or phone 1-503-226-6300 (mentioning FFRF) or reserve online.
Other options include using expedia.com, hotel.com and other websites to find less expensive rooms in downtown Portland’s many hotels.
Convention registration is $60 per member, $65 for nonmember companion accompanying member, $110 per nonmember (join for $40 and save $10) and $25 for students. "Sign up now and secure a room to avoid disappointment," said Gaylor.
FFRF is monitoring the hotel situation, so check here and notify FFRF of any difficulties.