Atheists May Receive Civil Rights Protections in Portland, Oregon

Portland has a large population who identify as being religiously unaffiliated.

The city of Portland, Oregon is thinking about amending their Civil Rights laws to grant protection to another group of people: atheists and non-believers. Currently, the city law doesn’t have special protections in place for people who are non-adherents to religion, but a proposed ordinance could lead to such a change.

Specifically, the proposed ordinance would add atheists to a protected class list that already includes individuals who are adherents to a religion. The change that could be brought about would put atheists on equal footing with those who are religious in terms of being discriminated against for their beliefs (or non-belief in this case).

The proposal came at the request of activists from the Freedom From Religion Foundation organization, which insists that the protections granted to religious individuals in the cases involving Civil Rights violations are often unequal for non-religious individuals. According to Cheryl Kolbe, the president of the Freedom From Religion chapter that proposed the change:

“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.”

While it might be implicitly implied in the laws that acts against specific groups of people for their beliefs are violations of one’s Civil Rights, the organizations would prefer to have the protections for atheists explicitly stated, and the protections laid bare in the law.

This is especially relevant in the city of Portland because of the high number of people who identify as not being religiously affiliated. Thus, they are more likely to experience discrimination of some sort compared with other cities that have more adherents to religions that have specific protections under the law. If recent data from the Pew Research Center is true, then there are still a lot of people who hold unfavorable views of atheists, making it more likely atheists will experience discrimination.

This is not the first time the question of the protections for atheists have come up in legal discourse, and not even the first time in the nation. In 2015, the city of Madison, Wisconsin made amendments to their laws that are similar to those that have been proposed for the city of Portland.

The vote is scheduled for February 27, 2019.


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