President Obama and the U.S. Congress have paid heed to freethinkers.
In May, the Freedom From Religion Foundation asked our then-24,000 members to write to their senators to extend protections of freedom of belief to nonbelievers. Well, Congress and Obama seem to have listened. On Dec. 16, the president signed the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act.
This law does what groups such as FFRF have been asking for years. It alters the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act to acknowledge that nonbelievers deserve the same protections as religious citizens: ''The freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is understood to protect theistic and nontheistic beliefs and the right not to profess or practice any religion.''
The new language also recognizes that although minority religions are targeted by majority religions in many countries, nonbelievers are targeted almost universally: "Though not confined to a particular region or regime, religious persecution and the specific targeting of nontheists, humanists, and atheists because of their beliefs is often particularly widespread, systematic, and heinous under totalitarian governments and in countries with militant, politicized religious majorities." [Note: Bold and underlined text indicates the new additions to the act.]
Other modifications include redefining "violations of religious freedom" to incorporate protections for those "not professing a particular religion, or any religion." Violations of freedom of conscience now include a list of acts committed because of "an individual's conscience, nontheistic views, or religious belief or practice," including "forcibly compelling nonbelievers or nontheists to recant their beliefs or to convert."
FFRF welcomes these long overdue changes. Not only are nonbelievers persecuted in many countries, but atheism is actually a capital crime in nations such as Saudi Arabia.
"Official recognition that freedom of belief applies also to nonbelievers was way past," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We're delighted that freethinkers finally received this gift in the closing days of the Obama administration."
The amendments to the act are particularly important for FFRF's continued campaign to protect atheist bloggers in Bangladesh — a campaign that has helped several bloggers escape. FFRF will be emboldened in its work on the behalf of these activists with the knowledge that the U.S. government acknowledges the legitimacy of their views.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national state/church watchdog organization with 25,000 nonreligious members all over the country.
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