For the most part, today was the last day of the conference. There is a members only meeting tomorrow morning at 9am to vote on issues relevant to FFRF, but other than that it's over. It has been most inspirational. This morning we began with Ellery Schempp, whose complaint as a high school student led to the landmark Supreme Court decision barring prayer and bible reading from the public schools. He received the "Hero of the First Amendment" award and gave an exceptional and moving acceptance speech. Next up was Matthew LaClair, who is a seventeen-year-old high school student from New Jersey, whose history teacher was proselytizing during class, declaring evolution to be unproven and therefore false, and informing the class that nonbelievers would be going to hell. All of this in history class! Luckily Matt LaClair was smart enough to record his teacher in the act. If only all everyone was as brave as this seventeen-year-old this country would be a lot better off. Matt LaClair was followed by Stephanie Salter, a liberal columnist, who had worked out for the San Francisco Chronicle for a couple of decades and then ended up moving back to her home of Terre Haute, Indiana, when her father took ill. She gave an interesting perspective on being a outspoken supporter of the separation of church and state (even though she herself is a believer and goes to church regularly.) She read a couple of her columns including one about a 50 foot red and white striped cross with a flashing red light on top and the words "Jesus Saves" on it. Somehow, an evangelical church was able to bypass all kinds of laws and restrictions to erect this cross. Ms. Salter was sure that they wouldn't have bent the laws that way to allow a 50 foot tall Mickey Mouse. She suggested how fifty foot tall question mark might be more appropriate. She also has a web site going up about the matter of state sponsored "In God We Trust" license plates that are not considered vanity plates as they should be. I'll put up more information about this when I have time to do the research.
After a break for lunch we returned to Monona Terrace for the main event: Christopher Hitchens. He received the Emperor Has No Clothes award and was, as expected, combative and argumentative, even among the atheist crowd. He likes to push people's buttons and he knew that he was in a room full of liberals. Atheists, but liberals also. He bemoaned the fact that there was no literature for sale on the evils of Islam and told us that we couldn't consider ourselves serious opponents of the dangers of religion without examining Muslim extremists. He's right, but I certainly don't agree with his suggested methods to take care of the problem: bomb Iran back into the stone age. If there are no Muslim children then wouldn't it be wrong to kills thousands of innocent children, because of the backward beliefs of their parents? Hitchens switched from hard left to hard right when the Iraq war began and he hasn't wavered. No comment on Abu Ghraib or the lawlessness of private security contractors. No comment on the jobs handed over to Bush cronies with no experience, whose tasks were to rebuild a country. Yes, Muslim extremists are over the top and Islam is just another false belief, but war breeds war and isn't it about time we started to develop some alternate methods of solving international problems besides death and destruction? Just wondering. After he sparred with questioners, Hitchens sat down to sign books and I stood in line for about ten minutes to get my copies of God is Not Great and The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice signed. After the signing I returned to my hotel room to take a brief nap before returning for tonight's dinner and entertainment. I've been on west coast time since I've arrived and haven't been able to get to sleep until at least three in the morning for the last two nights. I don't think I'll have that problem tonight. After dinner the entertainment was Tunes and 'Toons, which was Dan Barker at the piano and Steve Benson (editorial cartoonist for the Arizona Republic.) It was a lot of fun. The entire convention has been a lot of fun and I think I've finally have found a club that I would want to be a member of (to misquote Groucho Marx.) I feel comfortable among these independent freethinkers and found everyone to be very kind and engaging. I've met lawyers, doctors, lobbyists, ex-boxers and ex-priests. I think I may have found my calling.
It's nearly midnight here and even though I don't think I've had eight hours of sleep in the past 48 hours I wanted to jot down some thoughts about today. Currently the Red Sox and the Indians have just gone into extra innings with the score tied at 6-6. I've already predicted to my dad that the Red Sox will go on to win the World Series in 5 games. Let's see if I'm right. Now I've got to get some rest.