Given the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, I would have thought that atheists were protected under U.S. law, at least as far as being able to express their beliefs publicly. Well, they are, but Obama has made the U.S. commitment to international protection of atheists explicit by just now signing H.R. 1150 into law: The Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act (see bill here). As PoliticalDig reports,
The Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act is an amendment to the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. The amendment’s official stated purpose is:
“To amend the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to improve the ability of the United States to advance religious freedom globally through enhanced diplomacy, training, counterterrorism, and foreign assistance efforts, and through stronger and more flexible political responses to religious freedom violations and violent extremism worldwide.”
The newly amended 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 law further condemns any “policy or practice of routinely denying applications for visas for religious workers in a country can be indicative of a poor state of religious freedom in that country.” This goes against the belief of President-elect Donald Trump and his plan to persecute people because of their religious beliefs by denying them access to the U.S.
And here’s the operative part of the bill:
In case you can’t read that, it says “the freedom of thought and religion is understood to protect theistic and non-theistic beliefs as well as the right not to profess or practice any religion.”
The bill focuses only on atheists living outside of the country. It’s a strengthening of a 1998 religions freedom law, which established the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, dedicated to protecting religious liberty around the world. For 18 years, the office has investigated abuse of Christians, Jews and religious minorities in other countries, but it has never tracked instances of persecution against atheists. Now, the law will also include those who don’t subscribe to a recognized religion. “The freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is understood to protect theistic and non-theistic beliefs and the right not to profess or practice any religion,” the act now states.
The additions also denounce “the specific targeting of non-theists, humanists, and atheists because of their beliefs” as well as attempts to “forcibly [compel] non-believers or non-theists to recant their beliefs or to convert.” [JAC: I can’t find this language in the bill. Am I missing something?]
Granted, this act does not give additional protection to atheists in America, but non-theistic advocacy groups are hailing the move as a historic step. After all, it’s one of the rare American recognitions that atheists have rights too.
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
On May 9, 2014, Wolf introduced the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Reauthorization Act of 2014 (H.R. 4653; 113th Congress), a bill that would amend the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to reauthorize the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) as an independent federal government advisory body through FY2019.
A devout Christian, Wolf was opposed to abortion and subsidized birth control for federal employees. As congressman, Wolf also voted to deny funding to Planned Parenthood. He also opposed funding for international family planning in developing countries. Wolf also previously asserted that marriage should only be between one man and one woman. As such, he signed a letter supporting the “one man one woman” issue in the Manhattan Declaration. Wolf sponsored the bill that became the District of Columbia Civil Contempt Imprisonment Limitation Act, H.R. 2136, in 1989 and supported the bill that became the Elizabeth Morgan Act in 1996. He was a prominent anti-gay congressman, citing religious scriptures as the basis for his position.
One might have thought that a bill protecting religious minorities would not be named after a guy who tried to enforce Christian morality on the rest of the world. But I’ll take what I can get.
h/t: Richard M.