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American Atheists finalize plans for national convention in Iowa

Plans for an upcoming national convention of atheists in Des Moines are being finalized, and central Iowans will soon see bright yellow billboards marketing the event.

As The Iowa Independent reported last summer, American Atheists announced their intention to “caucus in the heartland” when they set Des Moines as the site of their annual national convention. Organization officials indicated that their decision to bring the convention to Iowa was based on a wide variety of factors that included value, accessibility and interest.

“The major factor,” according to leader Ed Buckner, “was the rapidly growing activism and presence of atheist, freethought, secular and humanist groups throughout the region. We have been very impressed by this, and want to do all we can to help and to further energize these groups.”

In late March, the organization plans to unveil several billboards in the Des Moines metro area that proclaim “You KNOW there is NO GOD! We Know You’re Right!” and announce the April 21-24 dates for the convention.

A similar ad campaign on city buses during the summer of 2009 led to criticism by then-Gov. Chet Culver, heated public debate and, ultimately, a swell in the membership rolls of Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers, which sponsored the advertisements.

More recently, in December 2010, marketing for the Southeast Regional Atheist Meet in Alabama included a billboard depicting several houses of worship with the message “You KNOW they’re all SCAMS.”

“This is part of our ‘You KNOW it!’ campaign,” explained Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists. “As we did in New York, with [the Alabama] billboard we are challenging [people] to face what they know is the truth — that all religions are scams — they tell you have to live, and then then take your money, all in exchange for an afterlife that does not exist.”

Hector Avalos, a professor of religious studies at Iowa State University and former Pentecostal pastor and child evangelist, is one Hawkeye State notable on the list of scheduled speakers. Avalos also leads the ISU Atheist and Agnostic Society, which is one of several state-based groups that will play a prominent role throughout the event.

National voices scheduled to speak at the convention include former National Public Radio reporter Jamila Bey, screenwriter and journalist Matthew Chapman, atheist blogger Greta Christina, comedian Troy Conrad, Atheist Community of Austin President Matt Dillahunty, Missouri State University Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster co-founder J.T. Eberhart, former Baptist deacon Donald Wright and theoretical physicist and lecturer Lawrence Krauss.

Although the group had initially reserved a block of rooms at the Embassy Suites on the River, where the convention will be held, that location has already sold out.

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