2017 National Convention

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musical photo album of 40th annual ffrf con


Jerry Bloom is a retired RN, U.S. Army veteran and FFRF member. Jerry has a wide range of interests including art, chess, urban archaeology, paleontology, stargazing and bird-watching. “My mission is to reinforce the wall of separation between church and state,” Jerry said. He is the activist plaintiff in FFRF’s successful federal lawsuit, FFRF and Jerome H. Bloom v. City of Shelton, Conn., filed last year against censorship of FFRF’s winter solstice display. The federal lawsuit was settled in FFRF’s and Jerry’s favor in February 2017. The city agreed to stop hosting an angel display or any displays in Constitution Park, and to allow FFRF to place a display in other city forums.

Jerry was one of several victorious state/church plaintiffs to be named 2017 Freethinker of the Year.

JESSE CASTILLO1Jesse Castillo 

FFRF member Jesse Castillo will be named a Freethinker of the Year for acting as a plaintiff in FFRF’s successful lawsuit against Brewster County, Texas, to remove Christian crosses on police vehicles. Castillo was born in Spain during his father’s military service and grew up in Panama, New Mexico, Louisiana and Florida. In the early 1990s, he served in the U.S. Army, graduating from U.S. Army Ranger School.  After his military service, Castillo worked as a security supervisor in Miami and earned an associate’s degree from Miami Dade College. Castillo is currently a federal employee. Growing up, Castillo attended various Christian churches. His atheism developed as he began to see discrepancies between Christianity and science. Castillo eventually left Christianity and started exploring other forms of spirituality. For the past 12 years Castillo has identified as an atheist.


Brent Michael Davids is a citizen of the Mohican Nation and a multi-award winning composer of concert music and film scores. Born in Madison, Wisconsin, Davids now lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Davids’ composer career, which spans 40 years, includes awards and commissions from ASCAP, NEA, Emmy, Meet-The-Composer, Kronos Quartet, Miró Quartet, National Symphony, Chanticleer, Joffrey Ballet, and the Rockefeller Foundation, among others. Davids holds degrees in Music Composition from Northern Illinois University and Arizona State University. He was trained at Redford’s Sundance Institute, and apprenticed with Oscar-winning composer Stephen Warbeck (Shakespeare In Love).

In 2015, the prestigious Indian Summer Music Festival awarded Davids its “Lifetime Achievement Award.” In 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts named Davids among the nation’s most celebrated choral composers in its project “American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius” in all 50 states. Many of Davids’ works employ traditional Native American instruments and instruments of his own design, including his signature quartz crystal flutes. Davids is also known for hand-drawn picture notation manuscripts that are themselves works of visual and musical art. As an educator, Davids founded the award-winning Native American Composer Apprentice Project (NACAP) and the Composer Apprentice National Outreach Endeavor (CANOE) to teach indigenous youth to compose their own written music.

Davids gave a speech titled, “Do you know an American Indian atheist?”

ZENOS FRUDAKIS1zenos frudakis

Zenos Frudakis is a renowned sculptor known for his public monuments, portrait statues, busts and figurative sculptures. He has created an extensive award-winning collection of more than 100 bronze sculptures in public and private collections. His work includes sculptures of historic figures such as Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, General Eisenhower and Sir Winston Churchill. Freedom, his best known sculpture, has become an Internet icon inspiring many in their quest to break free from boundaries. It has been listed in The Top Ten: Public Art by The Independent.

The oldest of five children growing up in Greek culture, Zenos admired, respected, and was drawn to Greek sculpture. Greek art influenced his aesthetic vision; additional inspiration came from sculptors Michaelangelo, Bernini, Carpeaux and Rodin. Zenos studied by scholarship at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, completing his formal education with a Bachelor in Fine Art and a Master in Fine Art at the University of Pennsylvania.

Zenos’ emphasis has been the figure and the portrait. He excels at expressing the character and vitality of his subjects while capturing an accurate likeness. Zenos portfolio includes figure sculpture, animals, bas-reliefs, portraits—both busts and paintings—of living and historical individuals, and poetic/philosophical sculpture with a post-modern sensibility.

Although Zenos creates personal, expressive works of art, he is a commissioned artist with wide-ranging versatility capable of sculpting subjects from the human form to animals.


Michelle Goldberg is an author and columnist for Slate. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

Goldberg’s first book, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, was a finalist for the 2007 New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism. In 2009, she published The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World, which is based on her reporting about the state of women’s reproductive rights across several continents.

In 2008, The Means of Reproduction won the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award.

Her work has also appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book ReviewGlamourRolling Stone, The Nation, New YorkThe Guardian (UK) and The New Republic. Goldberg has taught at NYU’s Graduate School of Journalism, lectured throughout the United States and in Europe, and has been interviewed on many radio and television shows.



Kelly Helton,12, is a middle school feminist and freethinking activist from Kentucky. Kelly has taken a stance against religious promotion in her public school, volunteered at Planned Parenthood, and publicly spoken at numerous protest rallies including Planned Parenthood, International Women’s Day, Tri-State Freethinkers and NaNoCon. Kelly believes that most important issue the world faces is equal rights. She feels that she could make a difference locally by speaking up about social justice and encouraging others to speak up as well. She will give a short talk about her activism, which includes sitting down for the Pledge of Allegiance and successful efforts to get her public school to put an end to religious songs that her class was required to sing. Her father is Jim Helton, an FFRF Lifetime Member and the Organizer of the Tri-State Freethinkers, but Kelly’s activism is all her own. She has been named FFRF’s 2017 Thomas W. Jendrock Student Activist.

CARA SANTA MARIA1cara santa maria

Cara Santa Maria is a Los Angeles Area Emmy and Knight Foundation Award winning journalist, science communicator, television personality, producer, and podcaster.

Cara reports on local issues for SoCal Connected on KCET, and she hosts the digital companion series for the popular competition reality show America’s Greatest Makers on TBS. Cara is the creator and host of a weekly science podcast called Talk Nerdy with Cara Santa Maria and co-hosts the popular Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast. She is a founding member of the Nerd Brigade and co-founded the annual science communication retreat #SciCommCamp.

Previously, Cara was a regular contributor to TechKnow on Al Jazeera America and Real Future on Fusion. She also co-hosted Brain Surgery Live on National Geographic Channel. She was a co-host and producer of TakePart Live on Pivot TV and FabLab on Fox. Before that, she was the Senior Science Correspondent for The Huffington Post and costarred in Hacking the Planet and The Truth About Twisters on The Weather Channel.

Cara has made appearances on BBC America, CBS, CNN, Current TV, Fox, Fox News, G4tv, Nat Geo WILD, Science Channel, SundanceTV, and the Travel Channel. She is also a contributor to The Young Turks.

Prior to her career in media, Cara taught biology and psychology courses to university undergraduates and high school students in Texas and New York. Her published research has spanned various topics, including clinical psychological assessment, the neuropsychology of blindness, neuronal cell culture techniques, and computational neurophysiology.

She spoke on “She, Atheist.”


Maryam Namazie is an Iranian-born secularist and human rights activist, commentator and broadcaster. She is spokesperson for One Law for All, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and Fitnah. She hosts a weekly television program called Bread and Roses.

She is on the International Advisory Board of the Raif Badawi Foundation for Freedom and Euromind; Humanist Laureate at the International Academy of Humanism; National Secular Society Honorary Associate; a member of the International Advisory Board of Feminist Dissent and a columnist for the Freethinker. Maryam and the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain were featured in a 2016 film called Islam’s Non-Believers; she was also a character in DV8 Physical Theatre’s Can We Talk About This?, which deals with freedom of speech, censorship and Islam.

The Islamic regime of Iran’s media outlets have called Namazie “immoral and corrupt” and did an ‘exposé’ on her entitled “Meet this anti-religion woman.” In the past few years, she has been involved in nude protest in defence of women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa, initiated a Day to Stand with Bangladesh’s Bloggers and Activists; an International Day to Defend Amina and the Nude Photo Revolutionary Calendar 2012-2013, founded Iran Solidarity, and helped launch the Manifesto for a Free and Secular Middle East and North Africa. She has spoken and written numerous articles on women’s rights issues, free expression, Islamism, and secularism.

Previously, Namazie was the elected Executive Director of the International Federation of Iranian Refugees, a refugee run organisation with 60 branches in 15 countries worldwide for 8 years; founded the Committee for Humanitarian Assistance to Iranian Refugees; and co-founded Human Rights Without Frontiers based in the Sudan, amongst others. She recieved the Henry H. Zumach Freedom From Religious Fundamentalism award of $10,000.


Steven Pinker, FFRF’s honorary president, is a cognitive scientist, experimental psychologist, linguist and popular science author. He is a Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, and is known for his advocacy of evolutionary psychology and the computational theory of mind.

Born in Montreal, Pinker is one of the world’s foremost writers on language, mind and human nature. Pinker has previously taught at Stanford and MIT. He has received eight honorary doctorates, several teaching awards at MIT and Harvard, and numerous prizes for his books The Language Instinct (1994), How the Mind Works (1997), The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (2002) and The Better Angels of Our Nature. His latest book is The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. Steven frequently writes for The New York Times, The Guardian, Time, The Atlantic, and other magazines on diverse topics including language, consciousness, education, morality, politics, genetics, bioethics, and trends in violence.

Steven is the chair of the Usage Panel of The American Heritage Dictionary and has served as editor or advisor for numerous scientific, scholarly, media, and humanist organizations, including the American Association the Advancement of Science, the National Science Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Psychological Association, and the Linguistic Society of America. For his writing he has been awarded the William James Book Prize three times, the Los Angeles Times Science Book Prize, the Eleanor Maccoby Book Prize, the Cundill Recognition of Excellence in History Award, and the Plain English International Award. He has also received the the Troland Research Prize from the National Academy of Sciences, the Early Career Award from the American Psychological Association, the Henry Dale Prize from the Royal Institution of Great Britain, and the William James Award from the Association for Psychological Science for his groundbreaking research.

He has been named “Humanist of the Year,” Prospect magazine’s “The World’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals,” Foreign Policy’s “100 Global Thinkers,” Time magazine’s “The 100 Most Influential People in the World Today,” and Honorary President of the Canadian Psychological Association. He has received FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award.

KATHA POLLITTkatha pollitt 

Katha Pollitt is well known for her witty, biweekly column in The Nation, “Subject to Debate.” The column, which won the National Magazine Award for Columns and Commentary in 2003, has been called “the best place to go for original thinking on the left” by the Washington Post. Pollitt’s writing has gained wide recognition for her cleverly biting style matched with an ability to sense and illustrate social follies.

Pollitt, a New York City native, won the American Sociological Award for Excellence in the Reporting of Social Issues in 2011. Her 1992 essay on the culture wars, “Why We Read: Canon to the Right of Me…” won the National Magazine Award for essays and criticism, and she received a Whiting Foundation Writing Award that same year. In 2013, her column won a Maggie Award from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, as did her 1993 essay, “Why Do We Romanticize the Fetus?”

Many of Pollitt’s contributions to The Nation are compiled in three books: Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism (Knopf, 1994); Subject to Debate: Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture (Modern Library, 2001); and Virginity or Death! And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time (Random House, 2006). In 2007 Random House published her collection of personal essays, Learning to Drive and Other Life Stories. The book was anthologized in Best American Essays 2003. It inspired the Feature Film of the same title, starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley. Her most recent book is Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, which The New York Times listed as a Notable Book of 2014.

For her poetry, Pollitt has received a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her 1982 book Antarctic Traveller won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her poems have been published in many magazines and are reprinted in many anthologies, most recently The Oxford Book of American Poetry (2006). Her second collection, The Mind-Body Problem, came out from Random House in 2009. Pollitt is a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute. She was educated at Harvard and the Columbia School of the Arts. She has lectured at dozens of colleges and universities, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brooklyn College, UCLA, the University of Mississippi and Cornell. She has taught poetry at Princeton, Barnard and the 92nd Street Y, and women’s studies at the New School University.

She has previously received FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award and Freethought Heroine Award. This year, Pollitt was given FFRF’s new “Forward” Award, to recognize individuals who have moved society forward in progress. Katha will be receiving the first statuette, an original replica of the statue outside the Wisconsin State Capitol, embodying the state motto, “Forward.”

PAULA POUNDSTONE1paula poundstone

Paula Poundstone is one of America’s top comedians known for her crackling wit and keen social observations. She is listed in Comedy Central’s list of “100 Greatest Stand-Ups Of All Time” and has also won an American Comedy Award for Best Female Standup Comic. She routinely identifies as an atheist in her performances. Among Poundstone’s claims to fame is her regular appearances as a panelist on NPR’s funny weekly news quiz show, “Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me.”

In 1992, she became the first woman to host the prestigious White House Correspondents dinner in its 72-year history. In 2016, Paula voiced the character “Forgetter Paula” in Disney/Pixar’s Academy Award-winning animated feature film, “Inside Out.” In June 2016, her first double-live CD, “North By Northwest: Paula Poundstone Live!” debuted at No. 1 on both Amazon’s “Hot New Releases – Nonfiction” and “Comedy CD” lists.

Poundstone’s second book, The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness, debuts May 9 but is already on Amazon’s top 10 New Releases chart. In pre-reviews the book is receiving impressive acclaim with Kirkus Reviews calling it “a deeply revealing memoir in which the pathos doesn’t kill the humor,” and Booklist Booklist praising Poundstone as “a crack writer of uncommonly hilarious observations.”


FFRF member Kevin Price was named a Freethinker of the Year for his role as a plaintiff in FFRF’s successful lawsuit against Brewster County, Texas, removing Christian crosses on police vehicles. Kevin is an atheist who “broke off a longtime on-again, off-again relationship with religious superstition” at the age of 30 through researching and reasoning. He grew up in the Pacific Northwest and currently lives in Texas. Price is a veteran and formerly worked for the Federal Government. Price will be unable to attend the convention due to a work conflict, but will be mailed his award.

MARIE SCHAUB1MarieSchaubforConvention

Marie Schaub is the successful plaintiff in FFRF’s lawsuit against a Pennsylvania school district over a Ten Commandments monument outside her daughter’s school. As the only publically named plaintiff in the case, she was vilified and harassed. In 2016, Schaub received FFRF’s Atheist in Foxhole Courage Award.

She was named a 2017 Freethinker of the Year.


Julia SweeneyThe oldest in a Catholic family of five children, Julia Sweeney was raised in Spokane, Washington. After graduating from the University of Washington where she studied economics, Sweeney headed south to Los Angeles to work as an accountant for Columbia Pictures. On a whim, she signed up for classes with the improvisational comedy troupe, The Groundlings. Sweeney studied under Saturday Night Live cast member-to-be Phil Hartman and was discovered by SNL producer Lorne Michaels. She stayed on the show for four hit seasons. Her unforgettable androgynous character, “Pat,” spun a feature film, ” It’s Pat.” Within a matter of months of Sweeney’s move back to Los Angeles, her brother was diagnosed with cancer and so was she. Her experiences led her to write and star in “God Said, Ha!” The play was released theatrically by Miramax, and earned the Golden Space Needle Award and the New York Film Festival audience award. Sweeney’s recording earned her a Grammy nomination for best comedy album.

Julia has appeared on the big screen in her friend Quentin Tarantino’s blockbuster “Pulp Fiction.” A veteran of live television, Julia was a series regular on “George & Leo” and she guest-starred on “3rd Rock from the Sun,” “Hope and Gloria,” and “Mad About You.” She’s acted in feature films “Clockstoppers,” “Whatever It Takes,” “Stuart Little,” “Thick as Thieves,” and “Beethoven’s 3rd.” She also served as a consultant on the hit HBO series “Sex and the City.” Her hilarious one-woman show, “In the Family Way” ran off-Broadway in 2003. “In the Family Way” is about the adoption of her daughter, Mulan, from China. In 2004, she debuted a new one-woman show, “Letting Go of God” about her journey from Roman Catholic schoolgirl to atheist.

KIMBERLY VEAL1kimberly veal

Kimberly Veal is president of People of Color Beyond Faith, president and host of the Black FreeThinkers Radio Network, IT trainer, and community and social justice activist.


Waddell Tom-headshotTom Waddell is the president of FFRF Maine. A lifelong “Out of the Closet” atheist, he fought and won to have the US Army change his dog tags to read “Atheist” where religion goes before deploying to Vietnam (he told the Army he was an atheist but they put “No Preference” there instead), campaigned for same-sex marriage, gave a public talk exposing the real purpose of the Good News Club, was a panelist on two discussion forums on “Can Religions Coexist?” held at Colby College and the University of Maine, and gave the first secular invocation ever given to the Maine House. The Maine Senate has denied his request to give a secular invocation but Tom will reapply until the Maine Senate either follows the Greece vs. Galloway decision and allows everyone to give an invocation or, Maine stops opening official meetings with prayer.

Tom is retired, lives in Litchfield, Maine, with his wife of 30 years and writes a monthly column “In Reason We Trust” with a focus on the separation of church and state for the Kennebec Journal, a Maine statewide daily newspaper.


Roy Zimmerman is an American satirical singer-songwriter and guitarist with a repertoire of irreverent songs.

He wrote a series of satirical musical reviews in the 1980s that were produced by the San Jose Repertory Theatre. The musicals parodied the excesses of the evolving yuppie culture in Silicon Valley.

Zimmerman founded The Foremen, a Southern California satirical folk quartet. It performed at the national conventions of both major American political parties in 1996. Continuing as a solo act, Zimmerman explained the philosophy behind writing and performing humorous songs on increasingly political subjects: “There’s nothing funny about world peace. Social justice never killed at the The Comedy Store. If we ever attain a worldwide consciousness of peace and justice, I’ll be happily out of a job. But as long as there’s poverty, war, bigotry, ignorance, greed, lust and paranoia, I’ve got a career.”

Zimmerman played in the Rock Beyond Belief concert on March 31, 2012, at North Carolina’s Fort Bragg.


co-president’s year in review convention report





convention music by Dan barker




The Freedom From Religion Foundation is proud to be hosting its 40th annual national convention in Madison, Wisconsin, this year! The event will include speeches and entertainment by illustrious personalities, a tour of FFRF’s Freethought Hall headquarters, and a two-hour leisurely boat cruise around Lakes Monona or Mendota.

The convention takes place the weekend of September 15-17, primarily at the lakeside Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison, Wis.

We’ll be hosting a pre-convention open house tour of FFRF’s stunning Freethought Hall, in downtown Madison just blocks from the convention site, from 9:30 a.m. to noon on Friday, Sept. 15. We welcome you to mingle with others, chat with our staff, and visit FFRF’s monument to Atheists in Foxholes (military and veterans). You can also stop by the charming Freethought Library to snap a souvenir photo with our life-size mannequin of Charles Darwin. Enjoy complimentary locally-made pastries, coffee, tea, and Mimosas or Champagne in the sunny fourth-floor auditorium featuring an exquisite grand piano.

Relax and enjoy a breathtaking new view of Madison on an optional boat cruise on the city’s Lake Monona or Lake Mendota starting at 10:45 a.m. on Friday. You’ll be out on the water for two hours, returning to shore at 1 p.m. Passengers on the cruise will be served a buffet-style lunch. Although the boarding area for the cruise is within walking distance, a shuttle bus will be offered.

Friday evening, between program sessions, join us at the first-ever, Wisconsin-style FFRF Tailgate Party, held on the Rooftop Garden at Monona Terrace. Music from Madison’s own Forward! Marching Band will liven the atmosphere. Grab your tailgate dinner and, if the Wisconsin spirit moves you, a traditional brandy old-fashioned at the cash bar. Then join in a game of bean bags, and meet some new secular friends.

We’re thrilled to announce a distinguished list of speakers and entertainers! Engaging talks will be given by FFRF honorary president and Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, writer Katha Pollitt, author and columnist Michelle Goldberg, human rights activist Maryam Namazie, science educator Cara Santa Maria, social justice activist Kimberly Veal, composer Brent Michael Davids and renowned sculptor Zenos Frudakis. A roster of victorious state / church plaintiffs will be recognized, including 2017 Freethinker of the Year Marie Schaub. Additionally, 12-year-old Kelly Helton will give a short talk about her activism. FFRF’s legal team will present its traditional legal accomplishments panel, reporting a behind-the-scenes take on FFRF’s 2017 legal work.

Famed comedian Paula Poundstone will stage a stand up routine that you won’t want to miss, and satirical singer-songwriter Roy Zimmerman will perform a repertoire irreverent songs as will FFRF Co-President Dan Barker at the piano with his own collection. Julia Sweeney, actress and comedian, will close out the night with her trademark humor.

Other annual events will include the Saturday “Non-Prayer Breakfast,” the yearly drawing for “clean,” pre-“In God We Trust” currency, and the opportunity to browse FFRF book and sales tables.

Freedom From Religion Foundation