Videos up for irreverent FFRF convention

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s exciting and star-studded 40th annual national convention recently concluded in Wisconsin’s capital. But if you missed it — or want to relive a moment — you can find most of the speeches now on FFRF’s YouTube channel.

The gala event Sept. 15-17 at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona Terrace in Madison attracted over 730 participants from 48 states, the District of Columbia, Canada and the United Kingdom. The fun-filled affair contrasted reality-check speeches with lighter entertainment. It began with a tour of FFRF’s Freethought Hall headquarters.

Comedian Paula Poundstone and actress and comedian Julia Sweeney had the audience in splits on Friday and Saturday evening, respectively. Sweeney is an actress and playwright (“Letting Go of God”) and a “Saturday Night Live” emerita cast member. Poundstone is a National Public Radio regular who has been a star on the comedy circuit for decades.

There was serious food for thought. FFRF Honorary Board President and renowned Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker provided an optimistic overview of human progress. Pinker offered the FFRF audience the first sneak preview of his upcoming book “Enlightenment Now.” Eminent writer and Nation columnist Katha Pollitt, who was honored with the Forward Award, expounded on the current state of secularism, while just-announced New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg spoke about Christian nationalism in the Trump era. And internationally acclaimed sculptor Zenos Frudakis gave a presentation on the larger-than-life statue of Clarence Darrow that he created for FFRF to place at the site of the Scopes trial.

FFRF recognized a variety of activists. Perhaps the most rousing speech at the gathering was by 13-year-old Kelly Helton, a student freethought advocate. Iran-born and Britain-based Maryam Namazie received the Henry H. Zumach Freedom From Fundamentalism Award of $10,000. Namazie delivered a moving account of the plight of ex-Muslim freethinkers. African-American activist Kimberly Veal talked about freethought in the black community, using her family history as illustration. Native American humanist Brent Michael Davids, who bills himself as “the second to the last of the Mohicans” and is a celebrated composer, spoke about nonbelief from a rarely heard perspective. Science communicator Cara Santa Maria, the recipient of the Freethought Heroine Award, gave the proceedings a scientific grounding. And three local activists were bestowed with Freethinkers of the Year honors.

Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor emceed the event and gave a year in review. The state/church watchdog’s attorneys made a presentation about their work during the past year. And Barker regaled the audience with his piano playing. In addition, pretty much the entire staff helped out to make sure that it was all smooth sailing.

A highlight of the gathering was a cruise outing on Madison’s lakes courtesy Betty Lou Cruises, a local outfit. Other convention highpoints included the Saturday “Non-Prayer Breakfast,” the yearly drawing for “clean,” pre-“In God We Trust” currency, and FFRF book and sales tables, which were quite a hit with the attendees.

FFRF aims to make next year’s convention in San Francisco, at the Hilton Embarcadero (Nov. 2-4), as “inspiring” as this year — hopefully, even more so.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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