MADISON, Wis. - As the current common council met for the last time Tuesday, members unanimously voted to make discriminating against atheism, and others who do not believe in God, illegal.
"This is important because I believe it is only fair that if we protect religion, in all its varieties, we should also protect non-religion from discrimination. It's only fair," ordinance sponsor District 18 Alderwoman Anita Weier said.
The vote amends the city's equal opportunity ordinance, adding atheism as a protected class in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations.
"There are many categories that are protected," Weier said. "And it did occur to me that if religion was then perhaps the opposite should be"
UW graduate student, and former Atheists Humanists and Agnostics president Chris Calvey was among the five atheists speaking in favor of the proposals.
They told the council stories of housing, employment, volunteer, community, and parental custody discrimination because of their non-belief in God, saying that fact has no bearing on their character, values or what type of job they do.
"It's actually something we're commonly very concerned about, just because atheism is viewed as such a taboo in this country. And there's such a stigma with it. That people in my student group for example are very hesitant to be honest about their lack of belief in God out of fear that they are going to be discriminated against in employment opportunities. If that came up in a job interview that's held against them," Calvey said.
"Having it on the books, where we're legally a protected class, that'll make things much easier for atheists," Calvey said. "And we'll be able to be confident that at least if we're honest about what we actually believe, then we have the law backing us up so we can't legally be discriminated against."
"It's really making a big statement that we're not going to put up with discrimination in the name of God. That being a believer doesn't mean you can discriminate," Freedom From Religion Foundation co-founder Annie Laurie Gaylor said.
No one spoke out against the proposal.
Atheism is now added to the city's long list of protected classes which, in part, includes: sex, race, religion, color, national origin or ancestry, citizenship status, age, handicap/disability, marital status, source of income, arrest record, conviction record, credit history, military discharge status, physical appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity, political beliefs, familial, student and domestic partner status, receipt of rental assistance and Social Security number disclosure.
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