The right not to profess or practice any religion

Obama signed a newly fortified international religious freedom act last Friday, and for the first time ever it included us pesky no religion-havers.

“The new law has some really interesting language in it,” said Caroline Mala Corbin, professor of law at the University of Miami. “It takes an expansive view of religious liberty, saying freedom of religion is not just about the right to practice religion. It is also about the right to have your own views about religion including being agnostic and atheistic.”

You’d think that would be obvious, wouldn’t you – that freedom of religion would include refusal of and dissent from religion. It’s not much of a freedom if you’re not allowed to reject the whole idea.

The new version of the law, named for a former Virginia congressman who championed its original version, specifically extends protection to atheists as well.

“(T)he freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is understood to protect theistic and non-theistic beliefs,” the act states for the first time, “and the right not to profess or practice any religion.”

Somebody please tell Trump that we have the right not to say “Merry Christmas.”

It also condemns “specific targeting of non-theists, humanists, and atheists because of their beliefs,” and enables the State Department to target “non-state actors” against religious freedom, like the Islamic State group, Boko Haram and other extra-government groups.

The new law has been heralded by both Christians and atheists. 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,” while Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, called it “a significant step toward full acceptance and inclusion for non-religious individuals.”

The AHA and other nontheist groups like American Atheists and Center for Inquiry have lobbied Congress on behalf of imprisoned and persecuted atheists in Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and elsewhere for several years.

Atheists in those countries have faced imprisonment, lashings and execution, sometimes at the hands of violent mobs. In September, a Saudi man was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 2,000 lashes for professing his atheism via Twitter.

And in Bangladesh a string of atheist writers were brutally murdered, mostly by men wielding machetes.

Corbin said the new language in the IRFA could influence how U.S. courts regard atheists at home. All Americans are protected by the First Amendment, she said, but “there has always been controversy about the degree to which they (atheists) should be protected. This law makes clear they are to be protected to the same extent” as religious believers.

Corbin also links the president’s signing of this act to another first.

“President Obama was the first president to explicitly acknowledge nonbelievers in his inaugural address, so this seems to fit into his legacy vis-a-vis nonbelievers,” she said. “What the next administration is going to do with this law and nonbelievers is a completely different question.”

Marginalize and attack us as much as possible, I would think. Trump isn’t obviously a believer himself, but he’s happy to suck up to religious fanatics if they suck up to him first. Anything to be an oppressive bullying reactionary.

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