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2023 Speakers

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Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center

One John Nolen Drive

Madison, WI 53703


 

Bryanna Banx$

Bryanna BanxBryanna Banx$ will be introducing one of the two student activist awardees who are suing over cancellation of a drag show sponsored by student clubs on the West Texas A&M West campus. Over the course of the last 19 years, on top of producing & hosting events, she has been performing across the state of Wisconsin, entire Midwest, and the rest of the country. She has also back-up danced and helped many others for different pageant systems throughout her career. She won Miss Gay WI USofA 2011 & Miss Club Wisconsin 2018.


Bear Bright

IMG 8071Bear Bright is 21 and will be a senior in the fall of 2023 at West Texas A&M University. He will receive the Richard and Beverly Hermsen Student Activist Award of $5,000 as one of the student plaintiffs suing his university and president for violating his free speech rights by canceling a campus drag show set up as a benefit. He is earning a degree in civil engineering. Other interests are composing music on his computer and playing intramural volleyball on campus. He’s currently the president of Spectrum WT and will be vice president of his school's ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) student chapter. His hometown is Borger, Texas.



Gordon W. Brown

GordonBrownGordon will be receiving FFRF’s traditional “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” award for secular invocations given this year before both the Eustis and Casselberry City Commissions in Florida. He moved to Orlando in the fall of 2022 and became active in FFRF’s chapter, the Central Florida Freethought Community. He was a drug hotline counselor, Army-trained drug and alcohol counselor and mental hygiene assistant. For the last 25 years he’s volunteered as a facilitator of a recovery program for long term prisoners in New York State. He’s a conservatory-trained actor, and has worked as a theatrical production manager, theatrical designer and director.



Jeremiah Camara

Jeremiah CamaraJeremiah serves on FFRF’s Executive Board and is the director and producer of the powerful documentaries “Holy Hierarchy: The Religious Roots of Racism in America” and “Contradiction: A Question of Faith,” both screening on Amazon. He’s written Holy Lockdown: Does the Church Limit Black Progress?” and The New Doubting Thomas: The Bible, Black Folks & Blind Belief. He’s creator of the popular YouTube video series, “Slave Sermons.” He is now wrapping up a new documentary, “The Age of Appeasement.”


Jen Castle

Jen Castle portraitAccepting the $35,000 Henry Zumach Freedom From Religious Fundamentalism Award on behalf of Planned Parenthood will be Jen Castle, the national director of abortion service delivery at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She leads a team that supports the delivery of exceptional abortion care by Planned Parenthood affiliate staff across the nation through training, mentoring, and consultation. Prior to joining the national Planned Parenthood office in 2015, she spent 14 years at PP Northern New England as a clinician, health center manager, director of abortion services, and associate medical director. Jen has worked and provided training in all abortion care clinical roles, and has been doing her heart’s work as an abortion provider since 2005. She is one of a very few nurse practitioners in the country trained to perform procedures later in pregnancy, and has long served as a clinical preceptor, training innumerable residents, fellows, and other advanced practice clinicians in abortion care.


Kate Cohen

Kate Cohen

Kate Cohen, who will receive FFRF’s “Freethought Heroine” Award, is a columnist for the Washington Post, where she has written about America's reflexive deference to religion and its effect on education, health care, and human rights. She is the author of We of Little Faith: Why I Stopped Pretending to Believe (And Maybe You Should Too), forthcoming from Godine Press. Kate’s essays have appeared on Northeast Public Radio and in Slate, Salon, BuzzFeed, Bustle, Vox and Fine Cooking, and her columns have led to interviews on NBC Nightly News, Freethought Radio, and the BBC World Service. She is the author of two previous books, The Neppi Modona Diaries: Reading Jewish Survival through My Italian Family and A Walk Down the Aisle: Notes on a Modern Wedding. She lives on a farm in Albany, N.Y.


Latina Envy

Latina Envy HeadshotLatina Envy will be introducing one of the two student activist awardees who are suing over cancellation of a drag show sponsored by student clubs on the West Texas A&M West campus. She is a growing artist who has had the pleasure of traveling around the state of Wisconsin in an all Latina group with her drag sisters, and has also performed as a backup dancer at a national pageant with Wisconsin’s 2023 Entertainer of the Year. She is known to be a sassy Latina on stage, but she is more than that behind the scenes - working as a 4k teacher and acting alongside a local theater group.


Godless Gospel

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An encore of the acclaimed debut of Godless Gospel will take place on Friday night, Oct. 13. FFRF Co-President and musician Dan Barker is executive producer and Andre Forbes, a former gospel producer, is artistic producer. Songs are by Andre and Dan. The first rehearsal and demo tape was recorded in February 2022. Vocalists include:

  • Tahira Clayton, jazz vocalist
  • Rogiérs Fibby, President of Black Nonbelievers of DC
  • Candace Gorham, author of The Ebony Exodus Project
  • Cynthia McDonald, an activist with Freedmen of Chicago
  • DeAngela Morant, of Florida
  • Andre Forbes, Artistic Director
  • Charles Wilson, Drummer
  • Amos Perry, Bass
  • Aaron Hill, Organ/Keyboard
  • Steven Phelps, Singer

Robert P. Jones

Robert P JonesRobert P. Jones is the president and founder of Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). He is the author of the forthcoming (9/5/23) book, The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy and the Path to a Shared American Future, and White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, which won a 2021 American Book Award. Jones writes regularly on politics, culture, and religion for The Atlantic, TIME, Religion News Service, and other outlets. He is frequently featured in major national media, such as CNN, MSNBC, NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and others. He is also the author of The End of White Christian America, which won the 2019 Grawemeyer Award in Religion. Jones writes weekly at https://robertpjones.substack.com, a newsletter for those dedicated to the work of truth-telling, repair, and healing from the legacy of white supremacy in American Christianity. He holds a Ph.D. in religion from Emory University and an M.Div. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.


LEGISLATORS PANEL

A panel of secular, nonreligious state legislators will include:


Mike Freiberg

Rep. Mike Freiberg Photo

Mike Freiberg has served as a Minnesota state Representative since 2013, after serving on the Golden Valley City Council for nine years. As a legislator, Mike has focused on issues related to health care, local government, the environment, and election policy. During the 2023-2024 biennium, Mike is chairing the Elections Finance and Policy Committee. He was a founding member of the Secular Government Caucus. In his day job, Mike works as an attorney for a nonprofit organization committed to improving public health. He has also worked as an Adjunct Law Professor, teaching courses in Legislation and Public Health Law. Mike is married and has two children.


Athena Hollins

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Minnesota state Rep. Athena Hollins, who is majority whip and represents District 66B, St. Paul, earned a B.A. in psychology from Reed College, and a law degree from St. Thomas School of Law. She was first elected in 2020, and serves as vice chair on Rules and Legislative Administration, and serves on Climate and Energy Finance and Policy, among others. She grew up in Hawaii and went to law school to “work for a world in which everyone, regardless of their race, religion, economic status, or who they loved could have access to the justice system.” She and her husband have two children.


Kelda Roys

Kelda Senate headshot

Kelda Roys, who was first elected to the Wisconsin state Assembly in 2008, served as minority caucus chair in 2011 and was elected to the state Senate in 2020. Kelda, who is married with three children and two stepchildren, earned her BA in Drama, Politics and Cultural Studies, magnacum laude, New York University 2000, and her JD, magna cum laude, University of Wisconsin Law School, 2004. She has worked as an attorney, a small business owner, and former nonprofit executive. She has served as a board member on a number of diverse civic and nonprofit groups, ranging from Common Cause of Wisconsin to Madison Repertory Theatre. An ardent supporter of abortion rights,she currently serves on a number of committees, such as Administrative Rules, Finance and Judiciary.


Elie Mystal

Elie Mystal AAE HeadshotElie Mystal, the Justice Correspondent for The Nation, where he writes about politics and social and racial justice, will receive FFRF’s “Clarence Darrow Award.” Elie’s first book, Allow Me To Retort —A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution made the New York Time’s bestsellers list in April 2022. Mystal was executive editor of Above the Law, a website with around 2,000,000 unique visitors that focuses on law, courts, and justice. He’s known for writing about the law and politics, breaking down Supreme Court decisions and up-to-the-minute coverage of Supreme Court confirmation battles. He received his undergraduate degree in government from Harvard University, his J.D. from Harvard Law School, and worked as an associate at Debevoise and Plimpton from 2003-2005. Off the page, Mystal is a legal contributor to the More Perfect podcast, a Radiolab spinoff, on WNYC. He’s appeared regularly on MSNBC since 2018, appearing on “All In With Chris Hayes”, “The Beat With Ari Melber,” “A.M. Joy with Joy Reid” and “Up with David Gura.”


Emily Olson

Emily OlsonEmily Olson, a member of the city council in Owosso, Mich., a town of 15,000 residents, will receive FFRF’s “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” Award. She is small business owner and new member of the city council. Her refusal to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance and her brave motion to discontinue prayers to open city council meetings failed by a vote of 5-2, and resulted in a serious death threat.


Samuel L. Perry

samperry150Samuel L. Perry (Ph.D., University of Chicago) is Professor of Sociology at the University of Oklahoma. An award-winning scholar and teacher, Dr. Perry is among the nation's leading experts on conservative Christianity in American politics, race, sexuality, and families. Along with over a hundred peer-reviewed journal articles, Dr. Perry is also the author or co-author of five books, including the award-winning Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States (with Andrew Whitehead) and The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Treat to American Democracy (with Philip Gorski). His forthcoming book is called Religion for Realists: Why We all Need the Scientific Study of Religion - Now More than Ever. Dr. Perry is also a contributing writer to TIME Magazine and has written for many news outlets including The Washington PostNBC News, and The Dallas Morning News.


1Mark PocanMark Pocan

U.S. Representative Mark Pocan represents Wisconsin's 2nd congressional district, FFRF’s home of Madison, Wis. He serves on the House Appropriations Committee and is a member of numerous caucuses, including the Congressional Freethought Caucus. Prior to becoming a U.S. representative, he served 14 years in the Wisconsin Assembly and owned a small printing business. Pocan received FFRF's Champion of the First Amendment Award at a previous convention.


Andrew Seidel

ALS HeadshotAndrew Seidel is a constitutional and civil rights attorney and author of two books: The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American and American Crusade: How the Supreme Court is Weaponizing Religious Freedom. Andrew is VP of Strategic Communications at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and formerly served as an attorney and director of strategic response at FFRF. He is a senior correspondent at Religion Dispatches, and organized and contributed to the groundbreaking report “Christian Nationalism at the January 6, 2021, Insurrection,” published by FFRF land the Baptist Joint Committee. He graduated cum laude from Tulane University ('04) with a B.S. in neuroscience and environmental science and magna cum laude from Tulane University Law School. He completed his Master of Laws at Denver University Sturm College of Law with a perfect GPA. Andrew formerly served as a Grand Canyon tour guide and is an accomplished nature photographer.


Marcus Stovall

MarcusStovallsmMarcus Stovall, 19, who will be a junior at West Texas A&M University in the fall of 2023, will receive the Stephen and Diane Uhl “Out of God’s Closet” Student Activist Award of $5,000. He is one of the student plaintiffs suing his university and president for violating his free speech rights by canceling a campus drag show set up as a benefit. He is earning his B.A. in political science with a legal studies emphasis. He is the founder and president of the Secular Student Alliance chapter, as well as the vice president of WT Spectrum, and a member of the Student Judicial Board. Marcus is from Amarillo, Texas.


Student Essay Winners

Luci Green

greenLuci Green, 18, from Columbia, S.C., was the fourth-place winner in FFRF’s David Hudak essay contest for Black Indigenous Students of Color, winning $2,000. She attends the University of South Carolina, with plans to major in chemistry and minor in chemical engineering. Her ambition is to become a chemical patent attorney. “I am especially proud to bring representation to this field in which less than two percent of racially diverse women have established a profession.”

  

Michelle Liao

liaoMichelle Liao, 18, won the $3,500 first place scholarship in FFRF’s William Schulz essay contest for college-bound high school seniors. She is 18, from Albion, Mich., and attends the University of Michigan, where she plans to major in psychology and political science. In high school, Michelle was the treasurer of the National Honor Society and a member of the 360 Dance Studio and Student Advisory Council. Michelle was a part of the math research group and the lead student author of a paper currently under review at the College Mathematics Journal. 

  

Skylar Blumenauer

blumenauerSkylar Blumenauer, 18, won the $3,500 first place scholarship in FFRF’s Kenneth Proulx essay contest for ongoing college students. She’s from Massillon, Ohio, and attends George Washington University with plans to major in political science. Skylar has volunteered more than 200 service hours to her community through various organizations, including spearheading a community-wide coin drive that donated over $9,000 in two years. She was one of 100 representatives at the annual Disney Dreamers Academy and received mentorship from professional business leaders across all fields. She plans to attend law school after graduation.

 

Amanda Tyler

Amanda_Tyler_2-E.pngAmanda Tyler will be receiving FFRF’s Champion of the First Amendment Award. She is executive director of BJC (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty), which upholds the historic Baptist principle of religious liberty: defending the free exercise of religion and protecting against its establishment by government. She is the lead organizer of BJC’s Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign and co-host of BJC’s Respecting Religion podcast. She’s been interviewed by The New York Times, The Washington Post, CBS News, ABC News, CNN, and MSNBC. Religion News Service named Tyler one of “2022’s rising stars in religion.” She received her J.D. from The University of Texas School of Law. She oversaw the co-production with FFRF of the report, “Christian Nationalism and the January 6, 2021 Insurrection” and testified before Congress in 2022 about the ways in which Christian nationalism proves cover for white supremacy.


Lizz Winstead

030123 Lizz Winstead AAE Headshot

Political satirist Lizz Winstead, who will receive FFRF’s “Emperor Has No Clothes Award,” was co-creator and head writer of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” forever changing the way Americans get their news. She also co-founded Air America Radio in 2004, co-hosting “Unfiltered” every morning with Rachel Maddow and Hip Hop legend Chuck D. Her book of essays, “Lizz Free or Die,” was published by Riverhead books (2012). She writes satiric commentary for a number of newspapers, does regular commentary on MSNBC and makes appearances on HBO, CNN and Comedy Central Presents. A prominent abortion rights activist, Lizz is one of the founders of Abortion Access Front, a team of comedians, writers and producers who use humor to destigmatize abortion and expose the extremist forces working to destroy reproductive rights access in all 50 states.


Mary Ziegler

Mary ZieglerMary Ziegler, a noted abortion rights legal expert and advocate, will receive FFRF’s “Forward Award,” which includes a statuette of a woman marching forward and is given to those who are moving society forward. She is a 2023 Guggenheim fellow and one of the world’s leading historians of the U.S. abortion debate. She is the author of many articles and six books on social movement struggles around reproduction, autonomy and the law, most recently, Roe: The History of a National Obsession (2023), Dollars for Life: The Anti-Abortion Movement and the Fall of the Republican Establishment (2022), Reproduction and the Constitution (2022), After Roe: The Lost History of the Abortion Debate (2015), Abortion and the Law in America: Roe v. Wade to the Present (2020), and Beyond Abortion: Roe v. Wade and the Fight for Privacy (2018). A graduate of Harvard Law School, she is a professor at the University of California-Davis. She is a frequent contributor to The New York Times, the Atlantic, PBS Newshour, CNN and the Washington Post.