Monday, April 27, 2015

Media Covers Psychic Fair But Ignores Secular Conference Honoring a Veteran in North Carolina

Last Sunday 118 people attended a psychic fair in Raleigh, and the News & Observer was on the scene to cover it. But on the other end of the state, in Hickory, one of the largest secular conferences ever held in the Carolinas was ending without a peep from the local (or national) press. Perhaps that's a good thing. Many of us long for the day when it's no longer news for hundreds of atheists, agnostics, skeptics, or secular humanists to gather for a conference in the Bible Belt. Still, I think there were a few news items worth mentioning about ReasonCon 2015.

The conference opened Friday night with a VIP dinner featuring Sarah Morehead, Executive Director of Recovering From Religion. Sarah talked about the Hotline Project and shared some heart breaking transcripts from callers struggling with their doubt or leaving their religion.

On Saturday the 287 official conference attendees listened to talks by a number of popular atheist authors and podcasters, including an "atheist feminist secular humanist" ex-Muslim currently writing a book titled A Skeptic's Guide to Islam.

But the most local news-worthy item was the "Champion of Reason" award that the conference hosts - the Hickory Humanist Alliance - gave to a brave local veteran of the Afghanistan war...

I would like to thank the Hickory Humanist Alliance for Honoring me with the Champion of ReAson at this years ReAsonCon....
Posted by Steven Hewett on Sunday, April 26, 2015

In addition to being a decorated war hero, Steven is also a local First Amendment hero in a long, sad national tradition stretching from "that awful woman" to an "evil little thing." In January, the King, NC City Council settled a case with Steven by removing a cross and Christian flag from their Veteran's Memorial. Tonight Steven is petitioning the Stokes County Commission to let him put an "In Reason We Trust" motto on the county courthouse alongside a privately funded "In God We Trust" motto that was just approved (unanimously) by the commissioners. (Update: The commissioners will vote of Steven's request on May 11).

I salute Steven for challenging our local government officials to follow the constitution - at great personal risk to himself and his family. From Vashti McCollum's lynched cat to police escorts for Jessica Ahlquist to go to high school, when will majority "Christian" communities stop punishing people like Steven who point out that their local government officials are not following the law?

"Our constitution mentions religion just twice. And both times the word 'no' is attached." 
- Ellery Schempp
Here's some more of the social media coverage for #ReasonCon2015...

Full disclaimer: I am a founding member (but not an officer) of the Hickory Humanist Alliance and co-founder of the Metrolina Chapter of Recovering From Religion.

The Hotline Project

Friday, April 24, 2015

Godless Gathering in Hickory, NC by the Hundreds

Conference attendees listen to Dr. Richard Carrier speak at last year's “ReasonCon” in Hickory, NC
According to a recent Gallup poll, the Hickory area is one of the ten most religious metropolitan areas in the country. So it may seem like an unlikely place for hundreds of godless people to gather to promote secular values and reason. But that’s exactly what is happening again this year starting with a VIP dinner tonight (April 24th) and conference speakers tomorrow (April 25th). They call it “ReasonCon 2015,” and it is expected to be the largest secular conference ever held in the Carolinas. Last year’s “ReasonCon” conference, also held in Hickory, drew over 400 attendees and featured talks by a former Seventh-day Adventist pastor and an academic expert on the historicity of Jesus.

This year’s conference is being organized by the Hickory Humanist Alliance (HHA), a local chapter of the American Humanist Association (AHA) and an affiliate of the American Atheists. HHA is a non-profit organization that provides a community for non-believers in Catawba and surrounding counties. Last year the organization also held the first “Reason Rally” on the square in Hickory to celebrate the National Day of Reason which is promoted by the AHA and other national secular groups as a way to celebrate reason and “to raise public awareness about the persistent threat to religious liberty posed by government intrusion into the private sphere of worship.”
With the percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religion rising at a rapid pace in recent years, local secular and humanist groups are popping up everywhere to foster a sense of community among the like-minded and raise public awareness that people who don't believe in a god or gods can be decent citizens who contribute to the larger society. In the greater Charlotte metropolitan area alone, there are now ten different groups that make up the “Charlotte Coalition of Reason.” HHA is one of the founding members of this broader coalition of local secular groups.

In highly religious communities like Hickory, non-believers often feel isolated and alone and are afraid to come out to others about their disbelief. If they do come out, they may be shunned by family or friends. Organizations like HHA, and events like ReasonCon, reassure these people that they are not alone and that there are many like-minded individuals - even in the “Bible Belt.” They also serve to demonstrate to the religious that non-believers exist even within highly religious communities and that they are decent, ethical citizens who also care deeply about their families and communities.

This year’s “ReasonCon” schedule includes Sarah Morehead, the Executive Director of Recovering From Religion, Tracie Harris, cohost of a weekly webcast and cable access television show in Austin, Texas called "The Atheist Experience", David Smalley, host of the Dogma Debate radio show, and Heina Dadabhoy, an ex-Muslim and “atheist feminist secular humanist” who is currently writing a book titled “A Skeptic’s Guide to Islam.” For more information or to purchase tickets for the conference, you can visit their web site at

Note The VIP tickets are sold out, but we'll be live tweeting during Sarah Morehead's talk via @MetrolinaRfR. And tickets are still available for tomorrow.