For one of his final acts while in office, President Barack Obama has signed a historic bill into law, which offers protections to atheists and other nonreligious individuals from persecution by extremists.
Dubbed the “Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act,” all who are not religious including, but not limited to, humanists, atheists, freethinkers, and anti-theists are now protected around the world from religious persecution. The law was passed with bipartisan support, which was a surprise considering the Republican Party’s insistence on forcing Christianity down the throats of the American people, even though the United States was founded as a secular republic. The Republican support likely came as a showing against various forms of Islamic extremism, but they were forced to accept protections for all beliefs and philosophies which should be considered a victory.
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 says, “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 stands in direct opposition to President-elect Donald Trump’s plan to persecute individuals for their beliefs by denying them access to the United States.
Roy Speckhartd, the executive director of the American Humanist Association, spoke glowingly about the new legislation. He 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 passage and signing of the law were an important first for the United States, which has never specifically codified the rights of nonreligious individuals with such sweeping protections. Obama was the first president, during an inaugural address, to mention nonbelievers. Thus his administration has come full circle, while in the twilight of his presidency, to grant the protections that were so desperately required.
Lou Colagiovanni is an investigative journalist living in Las Vegas who specializes in politics and crime. His work has been highlighted all over the world and he is regularly featured on television and radio.