President Obama Signs Law to Protect Atheists

The amended law now also condemns attacks on atheists for their beliefs

Credit: Flickr/Jon Worth

President Barack Obama signed a legislation on December 16 that protects atheists from religious persecution. The new law is an amendment to the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act. The original version was established by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – a body dedicated to defending the universal right to freedom of religion or belief around the world.

The amended law has modified “freedom of thought, conscience, and religion” to: “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”. It has also included “the right not to profess or practice any religion”. And for the first time, it condemns “specific targeting of non-theists, humanists, and atheists because of their beliefs”.

Both atheists groups and religious leaders have praised the addition to the law. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called the legislation “a vital step toward protecting conscience freedom for millions of the world’s most vulnerable, most oppressed people”. The American Humanist Association, a group that advocates equality and protects the rights of freethinkers, atheists, and humanists, has spent four years lobbying Republicans and Democrats for the change. In a press release they wrote, “That non-theists are now recognised as a protected class is a significant step toward full acceptance and inclusion for non-religious individuals, who are still far too often stigmatised and persecuted around the world.”

The law is expected to strengthen the standing of the International Religious Freedom Office – a body that assists religious and human rights NGOs in promoting religious freedom and identifies regimes that persecutes people on the basis of their religious beliefs.

Atheists and secularists continue to be attacked around the world for their beliefs or lack thereof. In Bangladesh, many secular bloggers were hacked to death by religious fundamentalists.

In 2014, Saudi Arabia had declared atheists as terrorists to reign in dissidents.

According to a 2015 survey of 65 countries by WIN Gallup International, 63 percent of people around the world say they are religious. 11 percent say they are “a convinced atheist”.

Thailand is the most religious country and China is the least religious.

Atheists make up 6 percent of the U.S.A. According to a 2011 Census, 2,870,000 people had stated no religion in their response, which is about 0.27 percent of the nation’s population. This number, however, includes rationalists and those who believe in a higher power.

According to this report by Hindustan Times, only 33,000 people in India have declared themselves atheists, with more than half of them being women. Surprisingly, more than 70 percent live in the rural areas. Maharashtra reports the highest number of atheists at 9,652. The tiny island of Lakshwadeep reported just 1.

This figure is way lower than the 2012 Global Religiosity Index which pegged the number of atheist Indians at 3%.

A Gallup survey shows that poorer countries have higher rates of religiosity as compared to higher-income nations.