On the Hill: Congress Includes Nontheists in Legislation Supporting Immigrant Rights

Last week I was proud to participate in an event on Capitol Hill that promoted a new piece of legislation meant to push back against GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s plan to ban Muslim immigration to the United States.

For those who don’t remember, Trump’s campaign advocated for a complete entry ban on Muslims following several attacks by religious extremists in 2015. Unfortunately, Trump’s policy isn’t that far from the mainstream on this issue—a recent poll showed that 50 percent of Americans and nearly 75 percent of all Republicans supported the idea of a temporary ban on Muslims who wish to travel or immigrate to America.

But some members of Congress are taking a stand on this issue. A bipartisan coalition of representatives led by Representative Don Beyer (VA-08) recently introduced the Freedom of Religion Act of 2016, which prevents immigrants from being denied entry into the United States because of their religious beliefs. The legislation was introduced with seven congressional co-leads and more than fifty original cosponsors. Over 100 advocacy organizations have also endorsed the Freedom of Religion Act.

The American Humanist Association, in coalition with other religious freedom and civil liberties groups, worked to ensure that the rights of nonreligious individuals were also included in this bill. The Freedom of Religion Act of 2016 specifically states that “an alien may not be denied admission to the United States because of the alien’s religion or lack of religious beliefs.”

Not only was this inclusive language incorporated into the bill itself, but several of the congressional sponsors took pains to mention the plight of nontheists at the press event which took place right before the introduction of the legislation. Representatives Mike Honda (CA-17), Andre Carson (IN-07), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-At-Large) all stated that it is vital that we protect the religious freedom rights of nontheists—a label that was specifically mentioned three times—and stated that their freedom to not believe free from governmental discrimination was just as vital as the right of a religious individual to practice their faith.

It’s unfortunate that so many Americans are so fearful of an entire group of human beings, but with the support of our progressive allies in Congress, the American Humanist Association will continue to fight against religiously motivated discrimination, whether it be against Muslims, atheists, or any other community.