The city of Madison, Wisconsin has struck another great blow for freedom and equality. They’ve passed a new statute which prohibits discrimination against atheists. No… seriously.
While conservatives in Indiana and Arkansas were explaining last month why their new religious objections laws weren’t invitations to discriminate against gays, the leaders of Wisconsin’s capital city were busy protecting the rights of another group: atheists.
In what is believed to be the first statute of its kind in the United States, Madison banned discrimination against the non-religious on April 1, giving them the same protections afforded to people based on their race, sexual orientation and religion, among other reasons.
It’s hardly surprising that such a statute would originate in Madison, an island of liberalism in a conservative-leaning state and the home of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. But the ordinance’s author, Anita Weier, said it didn’t arise from an actual complaint about alleged discrimination based on a lack of religious faith.
“It just seems to me that religion has spread into government more than I feel comfortable with,” said Weier, who left the council after the statute passed. “It just occurred to me that religion was protected, so non-religion should be, too.”
So Ms. Weier is uncomfortable with the way religion is spreading into the government? I really need to get out of the house more often because I’m clearly missing a lot. Our colleague Christine Rousselle, writing at Townhall, asks one of the pertinent questions:
At what point does an ordinance become so broad that it effectively renders itself useless? Also, does this indicate that a lack of belief is considered to be a system of belief?
That’s a fair enough question I suppose. I mean, in principle there’s nothing wrong with banning discrimination against atheists. After all, we don’t want anyone facing discrimination. But were atheists really facing all that much public condemnation and denial of their rights? I’m not talking about their being offended because somebody has a crucifix on display or a copy of the ten commandments here. Nobody should have a guarantee against “being offended” by the legal, protected speech or actions of others. But are atheists being denied jobs or rides on public transportation based on their (lack of) belief? More to the point, are atheist photographers, bakers and florists being forced to participate in Christian weddings? It seems like they shouldn’t be able to refuse such a request based on recent court cases, right? I mean, if it’s a service they offer to everyone else then they can’t really say no without going to jail or getting hit with some huge fine, can they?
Perhaps we can clean up the nation’s legal codes a bit here and just sweep all of these laws away. They could be replaced with one, standard rule which simply says that you can’t discriminate against anyone. Of course, at the bottom of it we’d have to put in one large carve-out in bold letters reading, EXCEPT FOR CHRISTIANS WHO ARE ASKED TO PARTICIPATE IN GAY WEDDINGS. There’s no word yet on whether or not a Muslim butcher can be forced to carve up a hog for a farmer. I haven’t been able to locate a specific case where that’s been challenged. There’s a very close one, where a Muslim Costco employee working in the meat department refused to sell pork to customers, but he was simply asked to transfer to a different department. (Of course ,he turned around and sued them over it.) But Uncle Sam never stepped in and told him he had to sell the pig products.
But for the time being these are all flights of fancy. Still, at least in Madison, atheists can rest easy. Nobody is going to force you to go to church.