Portland bans discrimination against atheists, other nonbelievers

The Fremont Bridge, foreground, crosses the Willamette River in Portland, Ore. Photo by Bob Heims/USACE/Creative Commons

(RNS) — Nonbelievers in Portland, Ore., are feeling affirmed this week after the city council amended the city’s Civil Rights code to extend protection from discrimination to atheists, agnostics and other people who claim no religion.

“What it is is validating because my city thinks I am of the same value as any other individual, and it isn’t OK for somebody to discriminate against me or anybody like me,” said Cheryl Kolbe, president of the Portland-area chapter of the Freedom of Religion Foundation.

The Portland city code had already prohibited discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation on the basis of race, religion, gender and national origin. However, Kolbe said religion wasn’t clearly defined, so one year ago she began advocating for a revision.

The idea, she said, was prompted by the Madison, Wisc., city council, which, in 2015, became the first city to vote to ban discrimination against atheism. Now Portland is the second city with such an ordinance.

“I always thought Portland would be a good place to try it, too, because we’re one of the least religiously affiliated cities in the country,” Kolbe said.

RELATED: Atheist minister Gretta Vosper hopes to stay at Canadian church for the long haul.

Portland’s protections against discrimination will now include “non-religion, such as atheism, agnosticism, and non-belief in God or gods as has been recognized by the courts,” according to published reports.

Thirty-one percent of Oregonians identify as religiously unaffiliated, according to the Pew Research Center.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

“Portland has a large percentage of residents who identify as religiously unaffiliated,” City Council Commissioner Amanda Fritz said in the Portland Tribune. “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.”

Kolbe said that although the policy is restricted to Portland city limits, it impacts people of non-faith throughout Oregon because they feel acknowledged by government leaders. She hopes it will inspire other cities to extend their protections.

“Discrimination against atheists, agnostics and non-believers really does exist,” she said. “We’re not asking for special privileges, we just want to be validated and accepted in the city just like everybody else.”

The amendment passed unanimously and will go into effect on Mar. 29.



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Tracy Simmons


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  • Very important legislation considering how much discrimination the Atheists are subjected to. In Portland. Oregon.

  • One of the leftiest of the blue states. Lefties hate Christians and religious people in general. Surprising that atheists have to be protected from their own.

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  • Christians hate everyone. They are so anti social they even want to be excused from anti discrimination laws.

  • Stay out of Portland Yahweh. Send an Atheist to Hell…and God stands in front of a lefty judge in Oregon !! A taste of his own medicine.

    It almost like you can’t smite an unbeliever like you did back in the day. Soon they will ban witch burnings !!

  • If Portland’s civil rights code protects people from unfair discrimination, it will do some good.

  • Should be the standard everywhere, of course. If we are to not knock the specific-brand religious folks, we are to not knock the non-religious folks for their failure to pick a brand.

  • All humans are born, Atheists.

    Church is a prison where parents condemn their children to do ” penance ” for the ” sins ” of the parents.

  • Spuddie hates everyone.

    She’s so anti-social, she wants to violate the First Amendment to get at the Christians.

  • It’s odd (and a little depressing) that such an ordinance is even necessary, but religious bigotry is hard to constrain.

  • And, I contend that religious indoctrination of children (which includes sending them to “Sunday school”) is one of the worst categories of child-abuse. It discourages a child from using reasoning, evidence, and logic in order to prevent rational thinking so that the child will then be receptive to fact FACT (Fantasy (or Fraud) Accepted as Complete Truth). Then, as adults after being “successfully” indoctrinated, they will view Bible verses as legitimate sources of absolute authority. So, for example, where the Bible asserts that homosexuality is an abomination, they are able to immediately swallow it as “absolute truth” without having to waste their time indulging in annoyingly stupid things such as reasoning, evidence, and logic.

  • It probably isn’t necessary. There isn’t a case of discrimination that inspired the law, and the protection of religion already covered nonreligious people. But Im sure it feels good to be clearly named as protected.

  • Let’s get together and let the state decide what children should be taught… Oh, hell, we’re a free society and we have rights.

  • A correction is needed in the second paragraph of this article: Cheryl Kolbe is president of the Portland-area chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, not Freedom of Religion Foundation. Small but very importation distinction.

  • Given that atheists have the lowest “retention” numbers of any belief group, I’d say you’re clearly wrong. However, perhaps the fact that children of atheists so often “find religion” is a plausible sign that atheists aren’t brainwashing their children — maybe you could claim that as some sort of moral superiority in parenting?

  • ” Given that atheists have the lowest “retention” numbers of any belief group, I’d say you’re clearly wrong.”

    What is your source for this statement – which on it’s face exhibits a gross ignorance of atheists/ism.

    Atheists don’t deal in belief.

    Atheists deal in knowledge.

    Once one deals in belief – there is no limit to what a ” believer ” can be conned into believing.

    Eg : The Invisible Pink Unicorn, Russell’s Teapot or Sagan’s Dragon in the Garage

  • Pew, mainly, but other researchers have produced similar results.

    Oh, okay. You don’t believe things, you just “know” things. So when I see article after scientific article, practically every day, “correcting” previously “known” facts, you’re telling me that the people who “knew” those things before they were disproven (or at least found to be inaccurate) were “dealing in knowledge”? If that is true, than facts sure have been changing a lot. Like, all the time.

    No, the reality is that you “believe” in the merits of empirical data. Don’t try and make it more than it is.

  • So has there been a rash of Portland hotels and restaurants turning away atheist customers? The next thing we will hear out of Portland is that some infidel sued a Christian baker because he politely declined to bake a “God Is Dead” cake.

  • Besides that arrogant, self satisfied look on our faces, how can businesses know we’re atheists?

  • I am an atheist but my sons were raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses. I didn’t want them pulled in two directions so I never mentioned my atheism to them. One son became a JW until he was kicked out and the other is an atheist. The latter, like me, came to this realization on his own. His teenage son is leaning towards atheism, again through his own investigations.

  • So, where are your letters to your elected representatives demanding that christians should no longer be protected by anti-discrimination laws?

    Please produce them.


    Oh, you are fine with your group being protected by anti-discrimination laws, but mock the very idea of extending those protections outside your group.

    That fellow named Jesus had a lot to say about hypocrisy, none of it good.

  • don’t wear your “Atheists Eat More Babies” shirt? I’ll send you one.

  • “atheists have the lowest “retention” numbers of any belief group”

    Yep..we lose about as many “members” as the National Not Collecting Stamps Association

  • Well God has cursed Portland..with….really awesome craft breweries, amazing local music scene, the tastiest food trucks, the best parks, Stumptown Roasters Coffee, the gorgeous Willamette River..Mount Hood

    Truly a city of the Damned.

  • Thanks but no thanks! I’m in a town of 8500 people in the rural South. I try to fly under the wire.

  • Citation please. Or is that one of those “internet statistics”? You realize, the fastest growing group is NONE as a religious choice. Maybe it’s because folks like you lie about religion

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