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article imageMadison first U.S. city to ban discrimination against atheists

By Megan Hamilton     Apr 5, 2015 in World
Madison - This city in Wisconsin is now the first city in the U.S. to protect atheists and other non-religious people from discrimination thanks to an ordinance that was unanimously approved by the city council last Tuesday.
The ordinance offers protection to atheists in the areas of employment, housing, and public spaces.
Atheists now join the city's other protected classes which include sex, race, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, handicap/disabled, marital status, citizenship status, gender identity, and political beliefs, AllGov reports.
Alderwoman Anita Weier led the city council in the unanimous vote, saying "It's only fair," The Raw Story reports.
"There are many categories that are protected," she said. "And it did occur to me that if religion was, then perhaps the opposite should be."
This comes at a time when kitty-corner neighbor Indiana is in a brouhaha over governor Mike Pence signing a bill that permits businesses and individuals to discriminate against others based on their religious beliefs, The Raw Story reports. So Madison city council members voted to to make their city more inclusive.
Atheists who testified in front of the council told stories of discrimination when it came to housing, employment, and parental custody because of their non-belief in God. They added that their atheism shouldn't have bearing on their character, values, or their ability to work, The Raw Story reports.
"It's actually something we're commonly very concerned about, just because atheism is viewed as such a taboo in this country," said Chris Calvey, the former president of Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics. "And there's such a stigma with it. That people in my student group, for example, are very hesitant to be honest about their lack of belief in God out of fear that they are going to be discriminated against in employment opportunities. If that came up in a job interview, that's held against them."
"Having it on the books, where we're legally a protected class, that will make things much easier for atheists," Calvey said, per The Raw Story. "And we'll be able to be confident that at least if we're honest about what we actually believe, then we have the law backing us up so we can't legally be discriminated against."
"And we'll be able to be confident that at least if we're honest about what we actually believe, then we have the law backing us up so we can't legally be discriminated against."
This new law is part of a movement to garner formal protection for atheists, who are frequently must deal with explicit or implicit discrimination due to their non-belief, ThinkProgress reports. The U.S. Constitution specifically prohibits submitting candidates running for office to a religious test. However, seven states--North Carolina, Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas legally bar people who don't believe in God from holding office.
Non-believers also face hurdles when it comes to voting. In 2012, a Gallup poll reported that atheists are at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to who Americans will vote for. Americans, the poll found, were more likely to vote for Mormons, Muslims, or gay people instead of atheists.
In his blog, The Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta notes that the final wording of the bill uses "nonreligion" as opposed to the word "atheist," but it achieves the same result, he noted.
Madison is the headquarters for the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), Mehta notes, adding that the foundation definitely supported the ordinance.
Weier, the FFRF notes, managed to find nine cosponsors even though her amendment got off to a rough start in some subcommittees. After hearing testimony from atheists on Tuesday, two additional alderpersons on the city council asked to be added as sponsors and the amendment was adopted by voice with no objections.
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