2016 Conference Recap: AHA Commemorates 75th Anniversary in Chicago

Over 460 humanists, atheists, and freethinkers gathered in Chicago last weekend to celebrate “75 Years of Humanism” with the American Humanist Association, the oldest and largest humanist organization in the United States.

Over a dozen topics were covered over the course of the four-day event, including humanism as it relates to neuroscience, feminism, social justice, intelligent design, interfaith dialogue—even humanist humor! We were honored to have such prominent speakers this year, including actress and 2006 Humanist Pioneer award recipient Julia Sweeney, comedian Leighann Lord, Franklin (North Carolina) Mayor Bob Scott, and many others.

As always, a major highlight of this year’s conference was the stellar lineup of humanist awardees. Accepting the Humanist of the Year award at the Friday night banquet, bestselling author and UCLA professor Jared Diamond discussed how we go about searching for intelligent life in the universe and why it might not be in our best interest to do so. Religious Liberty Award recipient John Shelby Spong gave a rousing and humorous speech on the need for Christians and other religious people to focus more on helping human beings than worshiping God.

seventyfiveOn Saturday afternoon, President’s Award recipient and Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) member Victoria Gettman spoke on her volunteer work in her Texas community. Humanist Heroine Medea Benjamin spoke passionately about her efforts to promote peace through her organization Code Pink. And Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers proudly declared, “I am what I am, and that’s all that I am” as he spoke about his decades of progressive legislative advocacy in his state.

Later that evening, Isaac Asimov Science Award recipient Elizabeth Loftus offered a fascinating look at how false memories can create a negative impact in the judicial system. And actor John de Lancie shared his personal story of skepticism and humanism, filled with humorous and touching moments, as he accepted the Humanist Arts Award.

The conference concluded with some of the most unique sessions of the event: a panel of young teens talking about “Growing Up Humanist,” a moving speech by humanist activist Rafida Bonya Ahmed (widow of Avijit Roy, a blogger who was murdered in Bangladesh), and the keynote address by University of Chicago professor Jerry Coyne on why science leads to humanism and atheism.

Photos and videos of the presentations at the 75th Anniversary Conference will be available in the coming weeks. In the meantime, save the date for the American Humanist Association’s 76th Annual Conference, to be held June 8-11, 2017, in Charleston, South Carolina, and hosted by the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry.