Obama signs first-ever bill extending ‘religious freedom’ protections to atheists

For the first time ever, the International Religious Freedom Act will now extend protections against religious persecution to people who are non-believers or who do not identify with any religion. President Barack Obama signed the legislation into law on December 16.

According to, HR1150 was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress and amends the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, including a provision that protects “freedom of thought, conscience, and 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 amended bill now defines “the specific targeting of non-theists, humanists, and atheists because of their beliefs” as a form of religious persecution.

It took four years for The American Humanist Association to get the atheist language into the bill. In a statement, the group states that the persecution of non-theistic minorities is a dangerous reality in some parts of the world.

“The persecution of openly humanist and atheist writers has become an area of increasing concern especially after the string of murders of secular bloggers and publishers by religious extremists in Bangladesh,” the AHA statement reads. “The American Humanist Association, along with other international advocates for religious freedom, have also been critical of the flogging of secular writers in Saudi Arabia, as well as a Saudi law that equates atheism with terrorism.”

The bill’s namesake, former Virginia GOP congressman Frank R. Wolf, was a human rights advocate who first conceived the legislation back in 1997.

“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,” University of Miami law professor Caroline Mala Corbin said according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

“What the next administration is going to do with this law and nonbelievers is a completely different question.”

Featured image via Gage Skidmore

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