*The following is an opinion column by R Muse*
It is no stretch to claim that over the past few months there has been a dearth of good news for anyone but the uber-rich, evangelical zealots, and extreme racists. It is noteworthy that what little good news there has been was provided by, and courtesy of, America’s outgoing President Barack Obama. This past week, there were two items that were sparsely covered by the media and one, in particular, was not only incredibly good news, it was a historical action that provided constitutional protections to a segment of the population commonly and systematically demonized as “un-American.”
President Obama signed into law the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act that, among many other things, “protects atheists, humanists, and other freethinkers around the world [including America] from religious persecution.” What that means for American Secular Humanists, agnostics, atheists and other nonreligious persons is that they are now explicitly named as “a class” protected by an “Act” that was quietly and unceremoniously signed into law last week. The new law was an update, and a much-needed upgrade, to the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act that states:
“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.”
Of particular note is the Act’s explicit condemnation of any group or government entity that specifically “targets non-theists, humanists, and atheists because of their beliefs” as well as attempts to forcibly legislate or compel “non-believers or non-theists to recant their beliefs or to convert.”
The reason this is so important in America is that each and every one of the Republicans calling themselves “social conservatives” (evangelical fanatics) who attempt to force other Americans to bend to their religious will are imposing their evangelical religion on the entire population. Now women, atheists, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community have a law that prevents religious Republicans from legislating or “compelling” other Americans to comply according to the social conservatives’ bastardized interpretation of Christianity.
While the rest of the country was mesmerized by the Trump’s lies, childish fits of anger and incompetence, nearly all secular humanists, atheists, and even law professors remarked about the historical significance of a new religious liberty law that specifically protects the “non-religious.”
A law professor at the University of Miami, Caroline Mala Corbin commented on the new law and noted that the President’s signature “expanded” the view of religious liberty around the world and particularly at home. Ms. Corbin said:
“The new law has some really interesting language in it. 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.”
As the professor remarked, this new law means the religious right’s claim that Americans opposed to complying with the religious Republicans insane proposals and practices can no longer claim that opposition to evangelical extremism is a form of persecution; that includes the patently absurd claim that not shouting “Merry Christmas” is an attack on the Christians or Christianity, or a war on their silly Santa holiday festivities.
The executive director of the American Humanist Association, Roy Speckhardt, issued a statement saying:
“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.”
Indeed, although it is difficult for non-believers of all sorts in America, around the world atheism, in particular, has even been equated with terrorism. Although that was not “quite” the case in America yet, the incoming theocratic administration led by soon-to-be vice-president and preacher Mike Pence poses a very significant threat to non-believers. Americans have no idea what the religious right is intending now that a renowned and acknowledged theocrat and avowed “Christian supremacist” like Pence has Trump’s ear and a willing religious Republican Congress panting to do the church’s bidding.
President Obama provided yet another firewall to guarantee that like it or not, Christian fanatics will have to accept that America will, going forward, hew to its Constitutional mandate that all Americans enjoy freedom of, and more importantly, freedom from religion. It is something that Americans are seriously going to need with an incoming administration Hell-bent on “making America great” by making it a de facto Christian theocracy. It is noteworthy that like any fundamentalist religion, a religious right American theocracy will impact every American, including the “wrong” kind of Christians. It is just another reason to be grateful that Barack Obama is still President and is still providing protections for all Americans and a bit of good news in some seriously dark times.