President Obama has been warmly commended by the American Humanist Association for signing the Frank R Wolf International Religious Freedom Act into law.
In a statement, Roy Speckhardt, above, Executive Director of the AHA, 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.
The law – which updates the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 – supports freedom of thought and religion and protects both theistic and non-theistic beliefs. It is the first US law that includes the term “non-theist”.
The AHA lobbied both Democrats and Republicans for inclusive language in the bill that would recognise the rights of humanists, atheists and other non-religious individuals, in addition to defending theistic religious minorities. The Act states that:
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.”
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.
Ahead of Obama signing the HR 1150 bill into law, Speckhardt said:
Legislators are finally recognizing the human dignity of humanists and granting the non-theistic community the same protections and respect that have been given to religious communities. With the increasing global persecution of humanists and atheists at the hands of religious authoritarians, we’re proud that Congress and the US Department of State are standing for the liberty of all people, both religious and non-religious.
Matthew Bulger, Legislative Director of the AHA added:
A historic piece of legislation that for the first time in our nation’s history recognizes non-theists, the International Religious Freedom Act is the result of extensive advocacy efforts from the humanist community and the support of our religious allies. Religious freedom for all people, theists and non-theists, is an American value we must protect.
The International Religious Freedom Act will strengthen the standing of the International Religious Freedom Office and the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, and promote other actions meant to foster religious freedom abroad.
While welcoming the new law, Friendly Atheist Hermant Mehta pointed out a “downside”:
It also defends the rights of those who wanted to partake in ritualistic animal slaughter and male circumcision.