The Bayou State’s secular and nonreligious population will officially come together for the first time Sunday when the University’s Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics club hosts the “Reason on the Bayou” conference.
The event, which will last from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Royal Cotillion Ballroom of the Student Union, will have several speakers discussing topics such as the repeal of the Louisiana Science Education Act, separation of church and state and LGBT issues.
AHA President and chemistry Ph.D. candidate Chad Thibodeaux said the conference’s keynote speaker is Nate Phelps, estranged son of Fred Phelps of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.
Other speakers will include Zack Kopplin, the Baton Rouge native who has gained national recognition for his work to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act; Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State; and Jerry Dewitt, an ex-Pentecostal minister who came out as an atheist last year after 25 years of preaching, Thibodeaux said.
Local jazz band The Jazz Souls will kick off the event with a performance at 11 a.m. Thibodeaux will give the conference’s opening remarks at 11:30 a.m. Various speakers throughout the day fill the rest of the itinerary.
Thibodeaux said community and campus groups from across Louisiana will have tables set up in the ballroom for advertising and networking purposes, including student groups from the University of Louisiana at Monroe, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Louisiana Tech University. He said AHA is expecting about 150 to 200 people to attend the event.
“This is the first event for the secular community from the heart of the Bible Belt,” Thibodeaux said.
The University’s AHA group will also have a table set up for attendees to stamp their dollar bills with the original U.S. motto, “E pluribus unum,” in an act of protest against the “In God we trust” printed on U.S. currency, Thibodeaux said.
Groups from the University of Southern Mississippi, Mississippi State University and Florida State University will be in attendance but will not have tables set up, Thibodeaux said.
“Reason on the Bayou” is free and open to the public. Those interested in attending can register online in advance via the event’s Facebook page, but Thibodeaux said on-site registration will be available all day at the conference.