The Red River Freethinkers hope to encourage new perspectives on religious and independent thought through Fargo's first major free-thought convention this fall, said Jon Lindgren, the group's president.
The local group has been criticized for its attempts to remove a Ten Commandments monument near the Fargo Civic Auditorium, but Lindgren said the Sept. 18 convention is open to supporters and critics.
"I do think that some people who disagree with us will register and attend," he said.
The organization is optimistic about a good turnout, and judging by the number of first-time attendees at local Freethinkers meetings, there will be a lot of interest in the convention, said Lindgren, a former Fargo mayor.
"It gives us an idea that there are many, many people who are skeptical of religious institutions and religious dogma and are interested in what we are doing," he said.
The convention brings five speakers who will touch on a variety of topics.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, author and co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, will speak about the importance of free thought in the women's movement.
Gaylor said the event serves as an opportunity to help dispel some of the stereotypes and misconceptions around nonreligion.
"A lot of nonreligious people feel like they have to stay in the closet," she said, "but really, if they can afford to speak out ... that's the most important thing they can do."
The Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation has more than 16,000 members nationwide but only 30 in North Dakota, so the convention can also serve to broaden perspective, Gaylor said.
"We do routinely get letters saying, 'I'm the only atheist in North Dakota or Wyoming.' ... They're not, but people feel very much like they are," she said.
Scheduled speakers for September event
Speakers for the Sept. 18 event include:
Dan Barker, author and co-president of Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, author and co-president of FFRF.
PZ Myers, University of Minnesota-Morris biologist and author of acclaimed science blog.
Brian Keith Dalton, producer and star of "Mr. Deity," an online comedy series.
August Berkshire, a well-known speaker and co-founder of Minnesota Atheists.
If you go
What: Project 42: 2010 Valley Freethought Convention
When: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sept. 18
Where: Fargo Civic Center, 207 4th St. N.
Info: Tickets are $65 and available at www.project42convention.org
Registration begins at 8 a.m. on Sept. 18.