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Convention 2002

From the Boston Globe, reprinted with permission.

Beyond belief

American Atheists president Ellen Johnson talks about the right to freedom from religion

By Joseph P. Kahn, Globe Staff, 4/1/2020

Boston played host over the weekend to the national conference of American Atheists. Founded in 1963 by Madalyn Murray O'Hair, American Atheists claims a membership of 2,000 and tackles a range of First Amendment issues. Conference speakers included abortion-rights activist Bill Baird, actor and writer John Bloom (also known as TNT film critic Joe Bob Briggs), and author Michael Cuneo (''American Exorcism'').

Presiding over the three-day event at the Hyatt Harborside Hotel was Atheists president Ellen Johnson, who assumed office in 1995 after O'Hair and two family members mysteriously vanished. Their fate was unknown until January 2001, when their remains were discovered in rural Texas. A former Atheists office worker has pleaded guilty to orchestrating their murders. Johnson, meanwhile, has become the new face of an organization that was in serious financial and logistical disarray after its founder's disappearance, at one point dropping from 3,500 members to 1,400.

(Click Here to read full article).


March 28, 2020

The Hyatt Harborside Hotel
at Boston's Logan International Airport
101 Harborside Drive, Boston, MA 02128

This year's annual National Convention takes place at the luxurious Hyatt Harborside Hotel overlooking Boston Harbor. Join us for three days of exciting lectures, workshops, social events, a river cruise around the City and a trip to Salem, Massachusetts!

The Hyatt Harborside is just minutes from Logan Airport and the downtown area. Room rates (single or double) are only $99 per night, subject to a 12.45% tax. Rate includes a hot buffet breakfast. Exclusive Harbor view rooms are also available on a first come basis. You must make your lodging reservations directly with the hotel, and mention that you are with the American Atheists Convention. Convention reservations can be made via mail or phone.

The Convention program begins at 9:00 AM on Friday, March 29, 2020. The last scheduled event is the Sunday Harbor Cruise, which ends at 2:00 PM on March 31. Note that the "Jump-start" Salem Trip is the day before the official start of the convention, on March 28.

Quick links:

You will find several Boston web links on this page. Here are two general Boston Visitors links:

  • Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau
  • Visiting Boston

An exciting line-up of Speakers...

ELLEN JOHNSON serves as President of American Atheists, and is a frequent media guest. She has testified on issues such as Atheist civil rights and related First Amendment issues before groups such as the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Last year, she was part of a symposium on "Religion in the Public Schools" at the College of William and Mary's Institute of Bill of Rights Law. She has served with American Atheists for over two decades, and since 1994 has co-hosted "The Atheist Viewpoint" television program carried on dozens of cable systems throughout the nation and on the internet.

Ms. Johnson received her Masters Degree in Political Science from the New School for Social Research, and is a second-generation Atheist. She is also a "soccer mom" and the mother of two children.

BILL BAIRD, the "Father of the Abortion Rights Movement," Mr. Baird was arrested in 1967 at Boston University for delivering a public talk which include a presentation on birth control and abortion technology. He was tried, convicted and jailed for violating a law which made it a crime to tell single women about birth control. After five years of legal battling, 21 judges and six courts later, the United States Supreme Court reversed Bill's conviction and declared such laws unconstitutional in the historic case BAIRD v. EISENSTADT (1972). This case became the basis of the ROE v. WADE decision which legalized abortion for women. We gather in Boston on the 30th anniversary of this historic event to honor this case, and the civil rights activist who made it possible!

The title of Mr. Baird's talk is "Bill Baird's 40 Year Crusade to Free Women From the Cross of Religious Oppression."

"JOE BOB BRIGGS" has been called "The Jonathan Swift of our times" by Stephen King and "a modern Will Rogers" by the BBC. Born in Dallas, Texas, he became a professional apprentice sportswriter at 15, graduated later from Vanderbilt University (majoring in English with minors in Classical Studies and Political Science) and went on to become an investigative journalist. He won several awards as a reporter for the Dallas Times Herald, including the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Social Reporting for his series on the killing of Mexican-Americans by police.

He is best known for his role as Joe Bob Briggs, a trenchant populist blood-and-guts film critic, and star of the TNT "MonsterVision" series. "An Evening With Joe Bob Briggs" (later "Joe Bob Dead in Concert") evolved into a theatrical performance involving storytelling, comedy and music. He has also contributed to the National Lampoon, Rolling Stone, Playboy, The Village Voice and other publications. His "Drive-in" column is carried by UPI, as is a second column, "The Vegas Guy" which chronicles Joe Bob's forays into Casino culture. His book Fifty Horrifying Movies That Changed History is scheduled for publication in the spring of 2002.

IBN WARRAQ, author of Why I Am Not A Muslim. There will be a book signing session.

Review of Why I Am Not A Muslim.

Another Review.

DR. MICHAEL CUNEO, Author of American Exorcism teaches sociology and anthropology at Fordham University.

His latest bestseller, which probes the growing "exorcism industry" in the United States, has been described as "an arresting cultural commentary" on this controversial phenomenon. American Exorcism is an inside look at this burgeoning practice, written with objectivity, insight and just the right touch of irony. Cuneo attended more than fifty exorcisms and interviewed many of the participants -- both the exorcists and those from all walks of life who believed they were possessed by the devil. He also presents the cultural context of today's exorcism phenomenon, starting with Linda Blair's astonishing performance in the 1973 hit movie The Exorcist, and other bizarre (and sometimes stomach-churning) images. He also explores the teachings of well-known exorcism advocates such as Malachi Martin (Hostage to the Devil), self-help guru M. Scott Peck, and self-professed demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren of Amityville Horror fame."

The Convention will also feature a book signing for Dr. Cuneo.

His previous books have included the highly praised The Smoke of Satan, and his research has profiled in such publications as The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times.

FRANK ZINDLER is Director of the American Atheist Press, and Editor of th American Atheist Magazine. A former professor of biology and geology, is also an internationally renowned science writer and linguist. He is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society and the American Schools of Oriental Research. Mr. Zindler is also a member of the Jesus Seminar, and an expert in a number of esoteric, biblical-era languages.

Mr. Zindler's talk is titled: "Cloning And The Cult Of Christ", How Christianity Is Holding Back The Most Promising Medical Breakthrough In All Of Time.

EDDIE TABASH, Constitutional and Civil Rights Attorney from California. In the election year 2000, he finished second out of four candidates in a primary race for the California State Assembly. He was the only open Atheist to be a major contender for a state legislative seat. Mr. Tabash serves on the Platform Committee and State Central Committee of the California Democratic Party.

The title of Mr. Tabash's talk is "Breaking the Final Taboo: Electing Atheists to Political Office."

KEITH PORTEOUS WOOD, Executive Director of The UK's National Secular Society.

Over religion, the US and UK are at opposite extremes, yet religion wins out in both cases [or places].

Mr. Wood works with parliamentarians and senior government officials in his endeavor to eliminate faith-based privilege, especially in education and labor laws. He has testified before the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords, where he called for the removal of bishops from the UK parliament. The United Kingdom is also a member of the European Union, and Mr. Wood's campaign resulted in a change of law which frustrated faith-based organizations' ability to discriminate against non-believing employees such as nurses or other care givers.

He also spoke in November, 2001 at the European Parliament seminar on the Role of Religion in International Policy Making, a promising if belated start in the effort to check religious influence in global political institutions.

Keith Wood has never been a believer, and decided at the age of six that he was an Atheist. Prior to becoming Director of the NSS, he served as Chief Financial Officer for several large public companies.

BRIAN LEE, of the Jesus Museum.

Although Brian Lee was born in New Jersey, in 1981, he spent his childhood in Hong Kong. As mythical fate would have it, he returned to Jersey when he was 13. At the age of 20, he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he currently resides. He's a singer, composer and curator of the Jesus Museum website.

Speech title: "E-theism:"

The Jesus Museum is dedicated to showcasing a new and wacky Christian webpage everyday, complete with a small editorial for each of them. At the time of the conference, the Museum will have collected approximately 400 websites. Brian will present various luminaries from the collection, such as "dear aborted child of mine," "Monkees fans for Christ," "Christian superhero fights tobacco witchcraft with lung power," and many others. He hopes that illuminating the trappings of Biblical dogma will help eradicate it, or at the very least give somebody a chuckle.

LARRY DARBY, Alabama State Director for American Atheists. An attorney and activist, Mr. Darby has led the fight for state-church separation in Alabama, "the state which time forgot." Among his activities has been a challenge to the placement of an enormous, 5,280-lb. granite Ten Commandments monument in the state's judicial building.

The title of Mr. Darby's talk is "My Journey as an Activist Atheist in Alabama."

DR. STEPHEN NISSENBAUM is Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts and author of several books including the popular "Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft" (with Paul Boyer); "Sex, Diet, and Debility in Jacksonian America: Sylvester Graham and Health Reform"; and "The Battle For Christmas."

He speaks on "Why the Puritans Hated Christmas, and How Santa Claus Solved the Problem."

"The Puritans correctly understood that Christmas was not really a Christian holiday," notes Nissenbaum. "It was a pagan celebration covered with only a thin veneer of Christianity. The Christmas season was, furthermore, an occasion for public drinking, carousing, aggressive begging, and sexual freedom -- in short, a carnival. It was a crime to celebrate Christmas in seventeenth-century Massachusetts."

This talk will explain why!

ARLO PIGNOTTI. You asked for it! After Mr. Pignotti's delightful presentation last year, he's back with another installment of his "Holy Paraphernalia Mania" show which includes real, authentic religious relics from the past and present. A variety of religious clothing (like the "If I saw Satan I would poke him in the eye" T-shirt), toys (such as the preaching plush apostle "Pauly Panda"), books (like the Christian children’s book "Jesus' Day Off"), videos (such as "Harry Potter, Witchcraft Repackaged"), games (like "Bibleopoly"), foods (such as "Bible Bars" and edible nativity sets), even religious electronic gadgets (like the Islamic "Prayer Pilot" and Scientology’s "E-meter") and much more merchandise found in religious stores and catalogues.

CONRAD F. GOERINGER is Editor of AANEWS and Senior Staff Writer for the American Atheist Magazine. A former antiquarian book dealer and freelance investigative reporter, his articles on politics, science and popular culture have appeared in numerous publications.

Mr. Goeringer will examine the proliferation of faith-based terrorism, from abortion clinic bombings to Islamic Jihad and apocalyptic violence in his talk: "HOLY TERROR: Religious Violence, Cosmic War and Other Anti-Modernist Fashions."

Preliminary schedule

Please note that this schedule is subject to revision.

Friday, March 29
9 - 10 amEllen Johnson
10 - 11 amBill Baird
11 - 11:15 amBreak
11:15 - 12:15 pmKeith Porteous Wood
12:15 - 1:30 pmLunch (on your own)
1:30 - 2:30 pmConrad Goeringer
2:30 - 3:30 pmMichael Cuneo
3:30 - 3:45 pmBreak
3:45 - 4:45 pmArlo Pignotti
6 - 7 pmJoin us for cocktails in the cocktail lounge
7 - 11 pmMembers dinner. Awards ceremony. Showing of "The Death Of Judas" with Ray Romano
Saturday, March 30
9 - 10 amEddie Tabash
10 - 11 amIbn Warraq
11 - 11:15 amBreak and book signing
11:15 - 12:15 pmSteven Nissenbaum
12:15 - 1:30 pmLunch and book signing
1:30 - 2:30 pmLarry Darby
2:30 - 3:30 pmBrian Lee
3:30 - 3:45 pmBreak
3:45 - 4:45 pmFrank Zindler
6 - 7 pmJoin us for cocktails in the cocktail lounge
7 - 9 pmLife members and Legacy members dinner. (Legacy members are members of 15 years or more.)
9 - 11:30 pm"Godstuff" the movie. Free admission. All Welcome. Popped corn. Meet the host Joe Bob Briggs. Purchase the video and have it autographed by Joe Bob.
Sunday, March 31
9 - 9:30 amMembers meeting
9:30 - 11:00State Directors Workshop
11:30 - 3:00 pmBoston Harbor Brunch Cruise. Bus to Odyssey Cruise Line boards n Front of Hotel at 11:00 am. Only 57 seats available on a first-come, first-served basis. Please make your bus registrations now. The cruise is from 12-2:00 pm. We return to the hotel at 3:00.


On Sunday, March 31, 2020, we offer a luxury tour of the Boston Harbor on Odyssey Cruises, the premier bay tourism service in the area! This luxury cruise runs from 12:00 PM to 2:00 PM and includes a gourmet buffet lunch and jazz band for your listening pleasure, along with incredible views of historic Boston Harbor. This excursion provides a memorable setting that only true luxury vessel can provide.

The trip includes round-trip bus transportation from the Hyatt Harborside to Rowes Wharf, and Odyssey's premier sailing ship. The panoramic decks provide spectacular views of one of the most beautiful bays and cityscapes in America. This is one of the most delightful tourist destination events for Boston visitors, well worth the special discounted price we have obtained for members at the American Atheists National Convention. So, bring the convention weekend and your visit to Boston to a memorable close by shipping out with us for a spectacular trip around the harbor!

Limited Availability - First Come Basis.

"Jump-start" your Year 2002 Convention experience with a trip to historic Salem, Massachusetts"

The Salem Witch Museum, Maritime Museum, Shops and other attractions
Thursday, March 28, 2020

Plan to arrive in Boston early in the week (and take advantage of our special Convention room rates!). On Thursday, March 28, it's all aboard the bus as we depart for a visit to historic Salem, Mass. We leave from the hotel at 1:00 p.m. Round-trip bus ticket price is $20. We'll then be dropped off at the National Park Visitor Service Center in Salem where more tour information is available.

From there, an abundance of sights and attractions await. One of the best ways to see Salem is on the trolley which departs from the Visitors Center, and includes a one-hour narrated tour of the historic town. Cost is $8 for adults, $4 for children ages 5-12, and $7 for Seniors. A family of two adults and children can travel on the trolley for approximately $20.

Downtown Salem includes the historic Witch Museum, the New England Pirate Museum, the House of the Seven Gables, a Maritime National Historic Site, the Salem Wax Museum of Witches and Seafarers, and a bevy of eateries. There is also the delightful Friendship Carriage Tours which allow you to see the area from a comfortable horse drawn carriage. The cost is $30 for four people (check for updates on prices), and you may make your separate reservations for the Friendship Carriage Tours through 978-745-3806.

You can learn more about what Salem has to offer, and get an update on 2002 events, prices and other information by visiting

We re-board the bus for the trip back to the Hyatt Harborside Hotel at 5:30 PM

Limited Availability - First Come Basis.

And another Convention "First"!

Recording Your Atheist History For Posterity

One of the goals of the Charles E. Stevens American Atheists Library and Archives is to provide you with an opportunity to have your oral history recorded and preserved for posterity. It is important that you leave a record of what life was like for you, as an Atheist. There is no other such undertaking of its kind anywhere. Future generations will have the valuable opportunity to be able to reflect on who the Atheists or our era were, how they lived -- and in their own words.

At this year's 28th National Convention of American Atheists, Ms. Jodi Greene will be videotaping the oral histories of conventioneers. A sign-up sheet will be available at the registration desk, and appointments for recording made on a first-come, first-serve basis. A list of questions will be provided in advance of the taping so that you can prepare your responses.

They are:

  • Your name
  • Your place of birth
  • Were you reared in a religious or non-religious home? If religious, what religion?
  • Are you a first, second or third generation Atheist?
  • What has been the most significant influence on your Atheism?
  • What has life been like for you as an Atheist in America?
  • In the time remaining for this interview, is there anything you would like to add?

The service is free for members of American Atheists. There is a $25 charge for nonmembers.

The oral history recordings will only be made at the annual national Convention of American Atheists. So join us as we inaugurate this important new project to preserve the legacy of Atheism!

Other Information...

* Remember, you must make your lodging arrangements directly with the Hyatt Harborside Hotel. Be sure to mention that you are with the American Atheists Convention to qualify for our special room rate.

* Those of you driving to the Convention or renting a car in Boston may park in the Hotel lot. Valet service is available. There is a $5/day reduced parking fee; however, if you wish "in and out" privileges (allowing you to leave the hotel and return the same day without paying a constant entry fee), the service must be charged to your hotel room. To avoid excess charges, make sure you work this out with the hotel.

* Both the Boston Harbor Brunch Cruise and the Salem excursion are limited to first-come, first-serve. Be sure to register now!

* On Sunday, 31 March in the morning we will hold the Annual Members' Business Meeting and workshops for state directors.


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