A new bill designed to amend the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 passed the U.S. House unanimously this week, and it will lead to some wonderful and horrendous changes. H.R. 1150 will offer extended protections to atheists, who have been persecuted in countries like Bangladesh, which is fantastic, but it’ll also defend the rights of those want to partake in ritualistic animal slaughter and male circumcision.
Here’s what the pro-atheism changes (in red) will look like if the Senate decides to approve the bill (as is) and President Obama signs it into law:
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. This right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.”. Article 18(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights recognizes that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, and teaching”. 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. Governments have the responsibility to protect the fundamental rights of their citizens and to pursue justice for all. Religious freedom is a fundamental right of every individual, regardless of race, sex, country, creed, or nationality, and should never be arbitrarily abridged by any government.
Though not confined to a particular region or regime, religious persecution and the specific targeting of non-theists, humanists, and atheists because of their beliefs is often particularly widespread, systematic, and heinous under totalitarian governments and in countries with militant, politicized religious majorities and in regions where non-state actors exercise significant political power and influence.
Those are wonderful changes. It’s often assumed that religious freedom applies to those of us without religion, too, but there’s nothing wrong with making that explicit.
More troubling, however, is that a mandatory Human Rights Report for Congress, which includes a section on “violations of religious freedom,” will now include:
An assessment and description of the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom in each foreign country, including persecution of one religious group by another religious group, religious persecution by governmental and nongovernmental entities, persecution targeted at individuals or particular denominations or entire religions, persecution of lawyers, politicians, or other human rights advocates seeking to defend the rights of members of religious groups or highlight religious freedom violations, prohibitions on ritual animal slaughter or male infant circumcision, the existence of government policies violating religious freedom, and the existence of government policies concerning
That sounds really confusing, so let me paraphrase: it means that if people who defend male infant circumcision or animal slaughter are “persecuted,” the U.S. will consider it a violation of religious freedom. Our government is therefore giving tacit approval to those practices.
The Senate can fix this before it’s too late. No one wants to see people persecuted regardless of their beliefs, but the government shouldn’t endorse these barbaric practices even in a symbolic way. They shouldn’t be protecting those who seek to harm anyone else.