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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 10, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 15
Madison City Council makes 'nonreligion' a protected class
Section One
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Madison City Council makes 'nonreligion' a protected class

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The Madison, Wisconsin, City Council has voted to add 'nonreligion' as a protected class to the city's equal opportunities ordinance.

The amendment was sponsored by 14 of the 20 City Council members and passed on March 31. Mayor Paul Soglin signed it into law on April 1.

The new law turns the tables on so-called 'religious freedom' laws like Indiana's controversial RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) by asserting the freedom to be an atheist.

'This is important because I believe it is only fair that if we protect religion, in all its varieties, we should also protect nonreligion from discrimination. It's only fair,' said Alderwoman Anita Weier, the bill's chief sponsor.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, praised Weir for coming up with the idea.

'We're kicking ourselves that we never thought of it,' Gaylor said. 'Nonbelievers are near the bottom of the totem poll.'

Gaylor said she hopes Madison's move spurs a national movement that will inspire others, including the State of Wisconsin, to pass similar measures.

Gaylor confirmed that Madison is believed to be the first city in the United States to officially add atheists as a protected class. According to the American Humanist Association, seven states have laws banning atheists from holding public office, though they have been ruled unenforceable by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Todd Stiefel, chairman of the Ohio-based nonprofit Openly Secular, called the Madison vote 'magnificent.'

On the other hand, Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, said the Madison ordinance wasn't necessary.

'I figured it was an April Fool's joke. Unfortunately it's not an April Fool's joke,' Appling said. 'It's very Madisonian.'

Surveys by the Pew Research Center and Public Religion Research Institute of Americans suggest that 20% or more of Americans and more than a third of those under 30 describe themselves as unaffiliated with any particular religion. Only about 3% of adults identify as atheists, however.

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