Speakers

Michael P. Jenkins is an eclectically trained psychoanalyst and clinical social worker practicing in New York City.  He is a teacher, supervisor and training analyst.  He holds a Certificate in Psychoanalysis from Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Study Center (PPSC) and received his Master in Social Work from NYU. 

He held the position of Director of Programs at Footsteps during its formative years and worked in a community health clinic in NYC during his early social work years.  A major area of focus is how issues of transition between cultures and religions impact individual identity.  He is trained in both contemporary Freudian and contemporary Jungian approaches to dreams and creativity.  He specializes in the use of images, dreams and imagination as a way of fostering individual and societal transformation. 

Michael is on faculty at PPSC, teaching “Evolution of Technique,” “Freud,” and “Dreams and Unconscious.”  He teaches “Dreams and the Unconscious,” and “Freud” at New York Counseling and Guidance Service (NYCGS).   Michael is also an exhibiting visual artist. He presents his art in galleries and community spaces and has conducted workshops on creativity in relation to dream imagery and the psyche.

Michael Jenkins

Psychoanalyst

Professor Marci Hamilton is the Founder, CEO, and Academic Director of CHILD USA and the Fox Professor of Practice at the University of Pennsylvania.  Prof. Hamilton is one of the United States’ leading child advocates and the leading expert on child sex abuse statutes of limitations (SOLs). Among her copious publications, she authored Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children, which makes the case for eliminating the SOLs.

Professor Marci Hamilton

Founder, CEO, Academic Director of Child USA

Shaan Taseer is an outspoken critic of religious bigotry, bullying and all customs, institutions and laws that discriminate against religious minorities, particularly the blasphemy and apostasy laws of Pakistan. He is the son of the late Governor of Punjab who was assassinated for calling for reform to the blasphemy law. Shaan continues his father’s legacy in defending the rights of religious minorities through his advocacy, activism and multiple grass roots community projects for the the financial and legally aid of people and families affected by Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

For his vocal and unapologetic support for religious freedom and for the rights of religious minorities, the same religious groups that called for his father’s death, issued a fatwa against him in December 2016, calling for his death.

In the face of active death threats and fatwas, he has devoted himself to being the voice of the voiceless, calling for an end to religious discrimination in all its forms, and the freedom of all communities to live in dignity regardless of their religious affiliation.

Shaan Taseer

Activist

 

Malkie Schwartz is an attorney who works at the Hunter College Foundation and the Director of the Eva Kastan Grove Fellowship Program at Hunter College. In her role as Director, she works with policymakers, politicians, and advocates to engage students in projects that advance the public good.

In 2000, Malkie chose to leave her community of origin, and three years later founded Footsteps, the first organization in North America to assist people who wish to leave the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community and live in mainstream society. 

To date, Footsteps has served over 1300 individuals and has an annual budget of over $2 million. Malkie has also worked for the Institute of Southern Jewish Life as their first Director of Community Engagement, and is a co-founder and board member of the Rights and Religions Forum. 

Malkie Schwartz

Founder, Footsteps

Pesach Eisen was born and raised in an Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn, NY where secular education was forbidden and the study of subjects such as Psychology, Science, and Mathematics was treated with disdain and mockery. On top of that, the topic of mental health was non-existent and mental illness was stigmatized even more than in society at large. He started his gradual exodus out of the community in his late teens. At the age of 25, after many years of struggling to find his place on the “outside,” Pesach discovered Footsteps – the only organization in North America assisting individuals on their journey out of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. With their dedicated assistance, he finally obtained his GED. Since then, Pesach has graduated from Kingsborough Community College with an A.A. in Liberal Arts, and from Brooklyn College with a B.S. in Psychology. 

Pesach is now a second-year Graduate Student in the Master’s in Mental Health Counseling program at Brooklyn College, and a Graduate Research Assistant researching Jewish Orthodox Religious Disaffiliation. After going through this unique journey, Pesach is now an advocate for mental health and its interaction with religious disaffiliation, as well as for education rights and coexistence between religious disaffiliates and their communities of origin.

Pesach Eisen

Sarah is an American activist, speaker and Executive Director of Ex-Muslims of North America. Born in Pakistan and raised in Texas, Sarah spent her early youth as a practicing Muslim, leaving religion in her late teens. In 2013, Sarah co-founded Ex-Muslims of North America, and is a former board member of the Reason Rally Coalition, organizing the 2016 Reason Rally in Washington D.C.   

Today, Sarah advocates for the acceptance of religious dissent through writing, public speaking, and activism. In addition to freethought, Sarah is particularly passionate about civil liberties and women’s rights, and is a co-founder and board member of the Rights and Religions Forum. 

 

Sarah Haider

Co-founder, Executive Director of Ex-Muslims of North America

Wendy Kaminer, a lawyer, social critic, and civil libertarian feminist writes about law, liberty, religion, feminism, criminal justice, and popular culture. She has authored eight books, including WORST INSTINCTS: Cowardice, Conformity & the ACLU; SLEEPING WITH EXTRA-TERRESTRIALS: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety; and I’M DYSFUNCTIONAL,YOU’RE DYSFUNCTIONAL: The Recovery Movement & Other Self-Help Fashions. Her articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including The Atlantic, theatlantic.com, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The American Prospect, and spiked-online.com. Her commentaries have aired on National Public Radio. She serves on the advisory boards of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the Secular Coalition for America, and is a member of the Massachusetts State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

Wendy Kaminer

Lawyer, Social critic

Nitai Joseph was raised on the fringes of the Hare Krishna movement and spent his early adulthood as a monk and leader within an offshoot sect. After leaving the community, he became active in studying and raising awareness about group influence and abuse. He is currently completing a master’s degree from the University of Salford, studying the psychology of coercive control across contexts. Additionally, Nitai works with non-profits dedicated to preventing and facilitating recovery from experiences of coercive subjugation. 

Nitai Joseph

 

Torah Bontrager, raised traditional Amish, grew up with no electricity and cars and speaks English as a second language. She literally escaped in the middle of the night at age 15, with only what she could carry: the clothes on her back and $170 in her pocket. 

In 2018 Torah founded The Amish Heritage Foundation (AHF), which is, per available records, the first organization in Amish history that advocates for the Amish (inside and outside the Church), promotes compassionate secular values, and assists those who leave the Church. 

Among other initiatives, AHF is attempting to overturn Wisconsin v. Yoder, the landmark 1972 Supreme Court case that ruled that a religion’s rights outweigh the rights of children to receive an education beyond the 8th grade. Torah is also a co-founder and board member of the Rights and Religions Forum. 

Torah Bontrager

Founder, Amish Heritage Foundation

 

Maryah Haidery is a researcher, medical writer, mother and activist. She is also a former member of an insular community of Shia Muslims known as Dawoodi Bohras. The community became a subject of recent media attention after one of its members became the first person to face charges under the US federal law banning female genital mutilation.

Maryah’s history with the Dawoodi Bohras led her to join Sahiyo, an organization dedicated to ending female genital mutilation/cutting in Asian communities. During the past 3 years, she has participated in research projects, interviews, speaking events, and storytelling initiatives to increase awareness of this long-taboo subject. She hopes her efforts will challenge conventional beliefs about shame, women’s rights, religious freedom, cultural relativism and islamophobia in both Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

Maryah Haidery

Activist

 

Lars Stoltzfus-Brown is a PhD Candidate in Penn State’s Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications and a University of California, Riverside Holstein Dissertation Fellow. Lars does critical/cultural work in media studies focusing on minoritization, difference, and power. They are currently working on projects exploring whiteness, feminism, and Etsy; the role of mainstream US media in mythologizing Amish heteronormativity; and journalistic failures in discussing transgender immigrants and asylum seekers. Lars’ dissertation explores media usage and identity formation among gender and sexually diverse ex-Amish. Lars has published on White Feminism and transgender-exclusionary discourse on Twitter, and, with colleagues, on gendered violence in the Batman animated series; the dark side of television advertising; and the political economy of corporate media.

Lars Stoltzfus-Brown

 

Elizabeth Cavell is associate counsel at the Freedom From Religion Foundation, where she has worked since 2013. FFRF is a nonprofit organization that works to keep religion out of government and to educate the public about nontheism.

Prior to joining FFRF, Elizabeth worked as a public defender in southern Colorado. She received her B.A. from the University of Florida in 2005 and her J.D. from Tulane University Law School in 2009. 

Elizabeth Cavell

Associate counsel, freedom from religion foundation

 

Dr. Glen Brooks, Medical Director of NY Ketamine Infusions, is generally recognized as the nation’s leading practitioner of Ketamine Infusion Therapy for depression and chronic pain. In 2012, Dr. Brooks founded NY Ketamine Infusions in New York City as one of the world’s first therapy centers dedicated exclusively to providing ketamine infusions. To date, Dr. Brooks has helped more patients than any other provider, having treated more than 3,000 patients for major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress and neuropathic pain.

Dr. Brooks, a Board Certified anesthesiologist, completed his training at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and taught at Yale University School of Medicine.

Dr. Glen Brooks

Anesthesiologist, Medical director of ny ketamine infusions

 

Carrie is a fourth-year undergraduate in the Philosophy department at Princeton University. She was raised in a fundamentalist religious sect that is sometimes referred to as the “Quiverfull” movement. Because her parents homeschooled her, she was largely sheltered from the outside world until college, at which point she began her deconversion process. 

Carrie’s research interests bridge the divide between philosophy and psychology. Currently, she is fascinated by narrative psychology, epistemic norms in religious communities, and the lasting impact of early childhood trauma. Carrie is a passionate advocate for children’s rights, particularly in the context of religious indoctrination.

 

Carrie Pritt

 

Michael Shemwell spent 30 years as a Jehovah’s Witness. After suffering suicidal thoughts in 2008, he began a path toward mental and emotional well-being that ultimately led to his waking up to the realities of the world he had been put in as a child. Seven years later he formally left—at the age of 38—with his wife. Both are now completely shunned by everyone they knew previously.

These events led Michael to become an advocate and facilitator for openness in the community, resulting in his podcast Shunned, in which he helps others tell their stories. The 40 episodes to date cover people shunned from not only Jehovah’s Witnesses, but also FLDS, Amish, Mennonite, Pentecostal, Is Was and Will Be, The Chosen People, and even a small family cult.

Michael’s goal is to continue to help others by facilitating transformative conversations to help people process their past lives. He has recently started the Shunned Recovery Project to help jumpstart those conversations.

 

Michael Shemwell

Podcaster

 

Mohamed Ali is a student at the University of Rochester, studying physics and philosophy. He is a campus fellow in the Critical Thinking Unit, an initiative aimed at facilitating civil debate on campuses about issues of free speech, individual rights and the dangers of political Islam. He became interested in topics of religion at a relatively young age and decided to leave Islam. 

Since then he has developed a passion for philosophy and physics and plans to devote the rest of his life to learning as much as he can about them while writing about the issues that matter to him.

 
 

Mohamed Ali