Protections for atheists and agnostics might soon be written into Portland city code.
This Wednesday, the Portland City Council will hold a hearing about an ordinance that would add “non-religion”—atheism, agnosticism, and general lack of belief—to the list of protected classes in the city’s civil rights code.
“Portland has a large percentage of residents who identify as religiously unaffiliated,” said Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who will introduce the ordinance Wednesday, in a press release. “We need to make these changes to our Civil Rights Code to remove discriminatory barriers, so they may participate equally in employment, housing, and public accommodations in the City.”
The city code already protects those who ascribe to different faiths from discrimination—religion is a protected class, like gender, race, and national origin, meaning that it is unlawful to discriminate against a person on those grounds. This ordinance would extend those protections to those who do not believe in a god, multiple gods, or religion.
According to the Public Religion Research Institute, Portland was the most non-religious city in America in 2015, with 42 percent of residents identifying as religiously unaffiliated. Just as different religious minorities can face discrimination when applying for a job, looking for a place to live, or attempting to patronize a business, religiously unaffiliated people can experience prejudice as well. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that Americans continue to hold unfavorable views toward atheists, though that trend is improving.
“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,” said Cheryl Kolbe, president of Portland’s chapter of Freedom from Religion, a group for nonbelievers, in a press release. “This is very affirming for those of us who are atheist, agnostic or any other form of non-belief.
Fritz chose to introduce this ordinance after being approached by Kolbe last year. Her office also worked with the ACLU of Oregon and the city’s Human Rights Commission to draft it.
The ordinance is expected to go to a vote on Feb 27. If it passes, Portland will join the city of Madison, Wisconsin, which became the first city in the nation to write protections for non-believers into city law in 2015.
According to local news reports, the move didn’t face much pushback in Madison. It remains to be seen if the same will hold true for Portland.