At the end of September, the Carolinas Secular Association will hold its second annual conference in — of all places — the Holy City.
Local non-theist group Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry is acting as the host organization for this year's conference at the Charleston Marriott, and SHL President Amy Monsky says the conference will help local secular groups from North and South Carolina to network and work together on regional initiatives.
At last year's conference in Carolina Beach, N.C. — the first ever Carolinas Secular Conference — the group decided to throw its weight behind leukemia and lymphoma research with a series of Light the Night fundraising walks. This year, the itinerary includes forums about community building and education.
Monsky says secular groups in the Carolinas recently stood in opposition to a North Carolina constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman exclusively. They also plan to march in the South Carolina Pride parade in Columbia. "We want social equality for everybody, especially with regards to marriage," Monsky says. Other potential areas of discussion include women's reproductive rights and separation of church and state in schools, she says.
One topic that might come up at the conference is celebrancy, or rites of passage developed by humanists to mark life events including births, marriages, and deaths. "We really don't have as much put in place as somebody in a religious community might, and so this makes me a little sad," Monsky says, giving the example of her own Catholic confirmation and her relatives' Bar Mitzvahs. "We have to be a little more creative."
Speakers at the conference will include Edwina Rogers, executive director of the lobbying group Secular Coalition for America, and Maggie Ardiente, director of development and communications for the American Humanist Association.
As for the humor of holding an atheist convention in a city known for its church-steeple skyline, Monsky says it hasn't come up. There was some discussion, however, as to whether it was appropriate to hold the conference at a Marriott, as the hotel chain is owned by a well-known Mormon family, but Monsky says she thinks the company is "quite progressive" in its business practices. "Short of including the Book of Mormon in the hotel rooms and banning hotel porn, I don't really see there being any kind of religious influence," she says. "It's nothing like Chick-fil-A."
The Carolinas Secular Conference 2012 will take place from Sept. 28-30 at the Charleston Marriott (170 Lockwood Blvd.). The registration fee, which does not include a hotel room, is $125 per person, and students receive a discounted rate of $75. Attendees must register via the conference website by Aug. 27.