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Not one to play it safe, the Freedom From Religion Foundation said Friday it has booked verbal bomb-throwing British-American author Christopher Hitchens as a keynote speaker for its annual convention this October in Madison.

A noted atheist who once penned an anti-Mother Teresa diatribe, Hitchens' book "God Is Not Great," his takedown of religion, holds the No. 2 spot on The New York Times best-sellers list.

Hard to peg politically, Hitchens has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Iraq war, yet delighted in the death of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, calling him an "ugly little charlatan" in a CNN interview.

Hitchens often tosses off his blistering opinions with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other.

"He's terrifically witty and has been just devastating to religion and his debate opponents at every appearance I've caught," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, foundation co-president with Dan Barker.

Hitchens is set to speak Oct. 13. Convention attendees will get first priority for seats, although some tickets may be available to the general public, Gaylor said. The foundation won't know until closer to the date, she said.

The convention at the Concourse Hotel runs Oct. 12-14. Updates will be available at www.ffrf.org.

Gaylor would not say how much Hitchens is being paid. He will receive an honorarium and the foundation's Emperor Has No Clothes award, given to public figures who "tell it like it is," Gaylor said.

Barker said Hitchens is controversial even within the foundation's 10,000-plus membership, and that's OK. "We have liberal and conservative members," he said. "We don't all have to think alike."

Other speakers for the convention include The Nation columnist Katha Pollitt and former "Saturday Night Live" comedienne Julia Sweeney.

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