by Deanna Cantrell
Press Officer–United Coalition of Reason
The Freedom from Religion Foundation hosted their 38th annual convention last month in Madison, Wisconsin at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center. This convention was three days packed with awards, speeches and comradery. Each story inspiring, it was difficult to choose which to highlight. The Freedom from Religion Foundation will be posting video of the convention, though it has not yet been released. For those unable to attend, the recordings will certainly be worth the evening in. Members had the option of purchasing paver stones that were placed on the observation deck of the beautiful building, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Ron Reagan, the “unabashed atheist, not afraid of burning in hell” and son of former President Ronald Reagan was at the top of the bill. Dan Barker, Co-President of FFRF delivered a stirring speech about his book, an answer to The Purpose Driven Life called Life-Driven Purpose. He said, “Nonbelievers are inspired, believers are out-spired.” This is because all dedication for altruism for us comes from within, whereas believers do what they are told.
Not all those awarded were nontheists, Rita Swan of CHILD, which stands for Children’s Healthcare is a Legal Duty, shared her story when she accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award for valiant work to save children’s lives. Dr. Swan is a former Christian Scientist, she and her husband lost their son, Matthew, to illness. In his memory they devoted their life’s work to advocating for children’s rights to healthcare. Her memoir, The Last Strawberry, chronicles that work. Christian Science practitioners are eligible to receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement for their “practice”. If not for the shield of their faith, many of these parents would be prosecuted for neglect, or worse, for withholding medical care. For more information, please visit Dr. Swan’s website linked above.
FFRF’s legal team Rebecca S. Markert, Patrick Elliott, Andrew Seidel, Elizabeth Cavell and Sam Grover presented a workshop discussing some of the legal cases that the foundation has headed this year. Five new lawsuits were tried, there are ten pending cases, seven amicus briefs, twelve hundred letters of complaint and three hundred one non-litigation victories. Notable cases included coach led prayer in Delaware and team baptism in Georgia.
The story of Douglas Marshall, who received Freethinker of the Year Award, recounted his struggle for equality within his local city hall in Warren, Michigan. He began by saying, “I feel humble and somewhat undeserving of this award, because I have never been threatened…though I have been slandered and told I am going to hell.” The room erupted in joyous laughter at this idle threat. He won the case to have a reason station in order to counter the religious display allowed at the hall. It was a long, drawn out process but in the end reason prevailed.
**A special thanks to Jackie Douglas for her kind hospitality!