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Atheists, Agnostics Are Now Protected Under Madison Equal Opportunities Ordinance

— April 13, 2015

In a groundbreaking move, the Madison, WI city counsel voted that atheists and agnostics are now protected under the city’s Equal Opportunities Ordinance. This change in law forbids landlords and employers from discriminating against people based on lack of belief in God. It also requires that city facilities and public accommodations are welcoming to nonbelievers.

During a time when one can hardly go a minute without hearing the phrase “religious freedom” followed by a reference to pizza, cake or flowers, this ordinance is a breath of fresh air. According to staff attorneys at the Freedom From Religion Foundation, it’s also the first of its kind in the U.S.

While the recent Religious Freedom Restoration Acts in Indiana and Arkansas loudly beat the drums against Christians being burdened by the state by being forced to bake gay wedding cakes, the Madison ordinance prevents nonbelievers from being burdened by believers. As an aside, it is interesting to note that not many non-Christian believers were heard saying they felt burdened in the recent Indiana/Arkansas controversy.

Though the Indiana and Arkansas laws were amended to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, the issue is still generating controversy around the nation. While some argue the RFRAs are largely symbolic, the Madison ordinance actually has teeth, albeit small ones. Violators of the ordinance are subject to fines ranging from $100 to $500.

Anita Weier, the city council member behind the ordinance, said, “Since religion is protected in our equal-opportunities ordinance, in all its variations, I thought that nonreligion should be, too. I just think there is a general stigma about it. I don’t think people should be afraid to say what they think.” Ms. Weier describes herself as “not religious.”

A case in point is the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation itself. The group has had long-standing difficulty finding businesses willing to provide products and services such as t-shirts, brochures and placards. Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-founder of the group, asserts that the new ordinance makes it clear that “the non-religious are part of the community. We’re people too.”

The message is simple:

Belief (or non-belief) is a personal issue.

It has no place in business or politics. One of the founding principles of our nation is the separation of Church and State. Even if one sets aside that oft-forgotten detail, the whole “I won’t serve gays, atheists or agnostics because they offend my beliefs” argument is as illogical and ridiculous as saying that clouds are made of cotton candy. Why?

If you were to line up ten people of varying ages, races and genders without such “giveaways” as jewelry, slogan-based t-shirts, etc., I would wager it is very nearly impossible to tell what they are in terms of sexual orientation or religious belief/non-belief.

This is important for this simple reason: all of those who feel that serving someone outside of their cookie-cutter ideology is a burden have likely been serving “them,” unknowingly, for a long time!

We don’t usually come with signs that say, “I’m a non-believer” or “I’m the biggest homosexual you’ll ever see.” Those, like the pizza parlor owner in Indiana, who so stridently argue that selling me twenty large pies with double sausage for my wedding reception is harming them have been selling me those same pies, albeit in smaller numbers, for years and – gasp! – even enjoy conversing with me as they do it.

The bottom line is this: if you want religious freedom for yourself, you are obligated to let others have it, too. Anything less is not only illogical, it’s flat-out moronic.


In Madison, Nonbelievers Have Religious Rights Too

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