The city of Portland, Oregon could soon add civil rights protections specifically for atheists.
On Wednesday, the Portland City Council will discuss a proposed ordinance that would add “non-religious” to the list of protected classes under city law. While “religion” is already a protected class, that word doesn’t make it clear that non-religious people are included in the mix. The ordinance would make that protection explicit.
The ordinance itself includes a description of how this proposal came to be, and it makes clear that local activists requested the change:
The community group Freedom From Religion Foundation — Portland Area Chapter (FFRF) initiated the proposal to change City Code Chapter 23.01 through conversations with Commissioner Fritz and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon (ACLU). Commissioner Fritz recommended FFRF connect with the Human Rights Commission (HRC). Subsequently, FFRF President Cheryl Kolbe spoke during the public comment period at an HRC meeting. After reviewing the proposal, conducting their own research, and consulting legal and public policy leadership from the American Atheists national organization, the HRC voted to support the change.
It’s all sensible, and there shouldn’t be any opposition to it. But that doesn’t mean some Christian group won’t complain, as if atheists are somehow getting special rights (which they’re not). A similar ordinance was passed in Madison, Wisconsin in 2015. There was virtually no backlash there. Hopefully, the same thing will occur in Portland.
“This change says that Portland chooses to make certain that non-believers receive the same protection from discrimination as those in any form of religion,” said Cheryl Kolbe, president of Portland’s chapter of Freedom from Religion, a group for nonbelievers, in a press release. “This is very affirming for those of us who are atheist, agnostic or any other form of non-belief.”
The vote is scheduled for February 27th. It better be unanimous.
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