For the first time, atheists and other nonreligious persons are explicitly named as a class protected by the law.
President Barack Obama has signed into law the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act. The new law protects atheists, humanists, and other freethinkers around the world from religious persecution.
Congress passed the international religious freedom bill protecting atheists, humanists, and other non-theists last week with overwhelming bipartisan support, and Obama signed the legislation into law last Friday, Dec. 16.
The new law explicitly protects atheists, humanists, and other non-theists, and upgrades the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. In particular, the new law states:
The freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is understood to protect theistic and non-theistic beliefs as well as the right not to profess or practice any religion.
The Act also condemns “specific targeting of non-theists, humanists, and atheists because of their beliefs” and attempts to forcibly compel “non-believers or non-theists to recant their beliefs or to convert.”
Commenting on the new law, Caroline Mala Corbin, professor of law at the University of Miami, said:
The new law has some really interesting language in it. It takes an expansive view of religious liberty, saying freedom of religion is not just about the right to practice religion. It is also about the right to have your own views about religion including being agnostic and atheistic.
Religious News Service reports Corbin also links the president’s signing of this act to another first:
President Obama was the first president to explicitly acknowledge nonbelievers in his inaugural address, so this seems to fit into his legacy vis-a-vis nonbelievers.
The American Humanist Association is celebrating the new law. In a press release the group explains the importance of the new, updated legislation:
The persecution of openly humanist and atheist writers has become an area of increasing concern especially after the string of murders of secular bloggers and publishers by religious extremists in Bangladesh. The American Humanist Association, along with other international advocates for religious freedom, have also been critical of the flogging of secular writers in Saudi Arabia, as well as a Saudi law that equates atheism with terrorism.
In a statement, Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, said:
The American Humanist Association is proud to see this historic legislation signed into law and looks forward to working with the US Department of State to ensure religious liberty for non-theists and religious minorities abroad. That non-theists are now recognized as a protected class is a significant step toward full acceptance and inclusion for non-religious individuals, who are still far too often stigmatized and persecuted around the world.
Speckhardt is right. Anytime the human rights of atheists and other non-theists around the world are explicitly recognized is a good day. The recognition of atheists, humanists, and other non-religious freethinkers as a protected class is good news for international liberty, and the secular values upon which a free and open society depend.
Bottom line: Thanks Obama!