Atheists are now a recognized religious group, according to the newly-amended International Religious Freedom Act.
On Dec. 16, President Barack Obama amended the act to afford atheists and other non-believers the same protections as other groups.
"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," Roy Speckhardt, executive director the American Humanist Association, stated, notes NBC News. "Legislators are finally recognizing the human dignity of humanists and granting the non-theistic community the same protections and respect that have been given to religious communities."
The law, originally signed in 1998, qualifies that "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."
“We are pleased that religious liberty still finds broad bipartisan support,” Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, said, notes the Baptist Standard. “Strengthening the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, including by protecting nontheistic beliefs and requiring increased religious freedom training for our foreign service officers, emphasizes our shared value of religious liberty for all people across the globe.”
Obama has long discussed the breadth of his own religious upbringing. In his book “The Audacity of Hope,” the president touches on his mother’s views. "This isn't to say that she provided me with no religious instruction,” Obama writes.
In her mind, a working knowledge of the world's great religions was a necessary part of any well-rounded education. In our household the Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita sat on the shelf alongside books of Greek and Norse and African mythology.
On Easter or Christmas Day my mother might drag me to church, just as she dragged me to the Buddhist temple, the Chinese New Year celebration, the Shinto shrine, and ancient Hawaiian burial sites.
But I was made to understand that such religious samplings required no sustained commitment on my part ... Religion was an expression of human culture, she would explain, not its wellspring, just one of the many ways -- and not necessarily the best way -- that man attempted to control the unknowable and understand the deeper truths about our lives.