University of Wisconsin–Madison
Lindsey Doe talking at FTF6

Lindsey Doe, Freethought Festival 6

A picture of AHA officers Emily and Melissa
A picture of Karen Garst's talk

Karen Garst, Freethought Festival 6

Freethought Festival 8


Friday March 29th

Time Speaker Talk Title
4:00 PM Emily Pyszora Introduction to AHA
4:30 PM Liz Cavell The Masterpiece Cakeshop decision and the future of anti-discrimination laws
5:30 PM Benjamin Zalisko Secularism and Science in Institutions
6:30 PM Darrel Ray Did Jesus Masturbate?
7:30 PM Jennifer Willis-Rivera Kindness as a Revolutionary Act
8:30 PM Ian Harris Using Humor to Influence People and Change Minds

Saturday March 30th

Time Speaker Talk Title
12:00 PM August Berkshire 21 Reasons God-Belief is Dying
1:00 PM Hemant Mehta Is Atheism Still a Political Taboo?
2:00 PM Sophia Thimmes Play, Poetry, and Processing
3:00 PM Ryan Bell Learning to Live Without Promises
4:00 PM Bart Campolo Why Love (Verb) May Be The Most Rational Life Strategy
5-6:30 PM Dinner
6:30 PM Rajani Gudlavalleti and Megan Kenny Secular Social Justice is Not Up for Debate.
7:30 PM Chris Johnson A Better Life with Chris Johnson
8:30 PM Ian Harris The Skeptic Comedian Live


Freethought Festival was held at:

Symphony Room
Gordon Dining and Event Center,
770 W Dayton Street,
Madison, WI,

You can find more information about parking here.


Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson is a photographer and filmmaker whose work has been in things like the New York Times. He is the recipient of the Kodak Award for Excellence in Filmmaking and the B.F. Lorenzetti Scholarship for Excellence in Filmmaking. He is also the author of “A Better Life: 100 Atheists Speak Out on Joy and Meaning in a World Without God” as well as the documentary film version.

Talk title: A Better Life with Chris Johnson
Time: Saturday 7:30pm

A picture of Chris Johnson

Ian Harris

Known as “The Skeptic Comedian”, who has a satirical and skeptical take in his comedy, Ian Harris is also a director, voice over artist, actor, and mixed martial arts trainer. He has two comedy specials: Critical & Thinking, and ExtraOrdinary and has appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and Comedy Central. He has made Entertainment Journal’s Top 100 Comedians list, landing #25.

Talk title: Using Humor to Influence People and Change Minds
Comedy title: The Skeptic Comedian Live!
Time: Saturday 8:30pm

A picture of Ian Harris

Liz Cavell

Liz Cavell is an Associate Counsel for the Freedom From Religion Foundation and has been a part of the foundation since 2012. She received her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Florida in 2005 and her Juris Doctor in 2009 from Tulane University Law School.

Talk title: The Masterpiece Cakeshop decision and the future of anti-discrimination laws
Time: Friday 4:30pm

A picture of Liz Cavell

Benjamin Zalisko

Dr. Ben Zalisko has been a community organizer in the atheist movement since 2006. He founded and led Secular Student Alliance chapters at Elmhurst College and the University of Chicago, and he mentored successive student leaders as a Humanist Chaplain. He went on to be CEO of Sunday Assembly in Chicago, “church for atheists”. A scientist first and foremost, he earned a PhD in Chemistry from the University of Chicago where he worked for 9 years as a researcher, making novel molecules and studying membrane protein dynamics. Ben has appeared in public debates, blogs, TV, radio, museums, and lectures on a wide variety of topics. Last year he made a big change to a dream career: He now lives in Washington DC and works at the Pentagon as an analyst of DOD programs and strategy. His latest side gig is the Podcast “Beltway Science”, conversations about the science behind public policy.

Talk title: Secularism and Science in Institutions
Time: Friday 5:30pm

A picture of Benjamin Zalisko

Jennifer Willis-Rivera

Jennifer Willis-Rivera is the Director of Operations at Random Acts, a nonprofit dedicated to spreading kindness around the globe. She is also a Professor of Communication Studies and the Department Chair of Communication and Media Studies at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

Talk title: Kindness as a Revolutionary Act
Time: Friday 7:30pm

A picture of Jennifer Willis-Rivera.

Darrel Ray

Darrel Ray is the founder and President of the Board of Directors of the international non-profit organization Recovering from Religion. He has a BA in sociology, an MA in religion and an Ed.D. in counseling psychology from Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. He is the author of Sex and God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality and The God Virus: How religion infects our lives and culture. He also is the principal researcher for the 2012 Sex and Secularism Report which will soon be updated for 2019. He also started the Secular Sexuality Podcast in 2014 which is now part of the Atheist Community of Austin podcast group.

Talk title: Did Jesus Masturbate?
Time: Friday 6:30pm

A picture of Darrel Ray.

Rajani Gudlavalleti and Megan Kenny

Rajani Gudlavalleti (ruh-juh-nee good-love-uh-let-ee) and Megan Kenny met in graduate school at Johns Hopkins in 2009. A year ago, they begun working as a team conducting workshops to combat issues involving racism and all forms of oppression. Rajani’s work focuses on advancing social justice at the intersections of public health and the legal system. She is an organizer for Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition, a consultant with Baltimore Racial Justice Action, and board member of Foundation Beyond Belief. Megan works as a data analyst for business, non-profit organizations, and volunteer projects, she also is a co-founder of Open Justice Baltimore.

Talk title: Secular Social Justice is Not Up for Debate.
Time: Saturday 6:30pm

A picture of Rajani Gudlavalleti and Megan Kenny

August Berkshire

August Berkshire has been an atheist activist since 1984. He is a co-founder and past president of Minnesota Atheists, a co-founder and past board member of Camp Quest Minnesota, and a past board member of the Humanists of Minnesota. He is a past vice president of Atheist Alliance International. He is currently the Minnesota State Director for American Atheists and serves on their National Board of Directors. He is the author of numerous pamphlets nad is the owner of the ATHEIST car license plate for Minnesota. His story is featured in the anthology, Atheist Voices of Minnesota. He is proud to be listed in the reference book Who’s Who in Hell.

Talk title: 21 Reasons God Belief is Dying
Time: Saturday 12:00pm

A picture of August Berkshire

Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is an author, blogger, and atheist activist who gained fame for “selling his soul” on eBay. He is the editor of Friendly Atheist and author to The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide, I Sold My Soul on eBay, The Friendly Atheist: Thoughts on the Role of religion in Politics and Media, he also edited and published the book Queer Disbelief. He has worked with the Center for Inquiry, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance and the Foundation Beyond Belief. He has a YouTube channel: The Atheist Voice, and has appeared on CNN and Fox News Channel.

Talk title: Is Atheism Still a Political Taboo?
Time: Saturday 1:00pm

A picture of Hemant Mehta

Bart Campolo

In his teen years, Bart Campolo became an evangelical Christian. He served as an urban youth pastor, founded the national service organization Mission Year, and became a highly influential evangelical leader. He questioned his faith and eventually, in 2005, made the transition from Christianity to secular humanism. Bart Campolo is a secular community builder, Humanist Chaplain, author, and creator of the podcast: Humanize Me. His overall focus is to inspire people to make the most of their lives by pursuing goodness and meaning in an openly secular way.

Talk title: Why Love (Verb) May Be The Most Rational Life Strategy
Time: Saturday 4:00pm

A picture of Bart Campolo

Sophia Thimmes

Sophia Thimmes has taught youth theater, spoken and performed at the 2018 Secular Student Alliance Conference, co-lead a high school seminar about spoken word poetry, and has hosted and won several poetry slams. She likes poetry because it’s a socially acceptable form of talking about everything ever (even the weird stuff). Along with poetry, she likes forests, overpriced soy lattes, and getting overly excited about random marine biology and outer space facts. She is currently a student at Utah State University where she works as an English tutor.

Talk title: Play, Poetry, and Processing
Time: Saturday 2:00pm

A picture of Sophia Thimmes

Ryan Bell

Ryan Bell is the National Organizing Manager for the Secular Student Alliance and Humanist Chaplain at the University of Southern California. He spent almost 20 years in congregational pastoral ministry before leaving his church in 2013. In 2014 he spent a year examining his religious and spiritual beliefs, exploring atheism, and writing about his experience in his blog, Year Without God. He is host of the podcast, Life After God, and his writing has appeared in The Guardian, CNN, Time, The Humanist, and Patheos.

Talk title: Learning to Live Without Promises
Time: Saturday 3:00pm

A picture of Ryan Bell


Freethought Festival is a free, student-run freethinking convention held annually in Madison, Wisconsin. It is organized and hosted by Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Authors, bloggers, activists, and scientists from around the country give talks relating to atheism, freethinking, skepticism, science, and secularism. The event is funded by AHA through an annual operations budget received from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Harassment policy

Freethought Festival is dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, race, or religion. We do not tolerate harassment of conference participants in any form. Conference participants violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the conference at the discretion of the organizers.

Harassment includes offensive verbal comments, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention. Assuming the absence of problematic behavior (intimidation, following, inappropriate physical contact, etc.), criticism or disagreement regarding an attendee’s belief structure will not be construed as harassment. Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately.

Exhibitors, sponsors, and volunteers are subject to the anti-harassment policy as well.

If a participant engages in harassing behavior, the conference organizers may take any action they deem appropriate, including warning the offender or expulsion from the conference. If you are being harassed, notice that someone else is being harassed, or have any other concerns, please contact a member of conference staff immediately.

Conference staff will be happy to help participants contact hotel/venue security or local law enforcement, provide escorts, or otherwise assist those experiencing harassment to feel safe for the duration of the conference. We value your attendance.

Disability accommodations

The 80 is a free bus that provides transportation around campus; it’s fully equipped to accommodate people in wheelchairs, and it drops off across the street from Gordon. The 80 route can be found at this url:

If you have any questions about taking the 80 or getting around town in general, any AHA Leadership Team Members (wearing lanyards with their names) are UW Madison students and will either be able to answer your question or find someone who can.

The conference location is located on the second floor of the Gordon Dining and Events Center in the Symphony Room and is accessible by elevator.

The chairs in the conference room are not connected to the ground and can be moved to allow seating for a person in a wheelchair; we don’t have a specified seating section for disabled guests, so you can pick your own seat.

If you require other accommodations at Freethought Festival, you can let an AHA Leadership Team Member know at the registration table, or talk to any AHA Leadership Team Member throughout the conference and they’ll be happy to help. If you need assistance or need to request an accommodation while off-site you can call 920-266-7902 or you can email to reach AHA’s Vice President.