Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

Portland gives equal status to nonbelievers

Vol. 36 No. 03 April 2019
The coalition that helped pass the Portland, Ore., ordinance protecting nonbelievers includes (from left) Cheryl Kolbe, president, FFRF – Portland Area Chapter; Amanda Fritz, commissioner, Portland City Council; Kimberly McCullough, policy director, ACLU of Oregon; Cynthia Castro, policy advisor for Fritz; Markisha Smith, director, Office of Equity and Human Rights; and Koffi Dessou, manager, Office of Equity and Human Rights.

Portland, Ore., has become the second city in the country to give nonbelievers equal status, thanks to the efforts of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and its local chapter.

On Feb. 27, the Portland City Council unanimously approved an ordinance explicitly conferring on nonbelievers the same protections (against discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations) granted to religious people.

[See Cheryl Kolbe’s testimony to the Portland City Council.]

“The proposed changes to our civil rights code may seem like a minor tweak, but they are significant for the many, many Portlanders who identify as nonreligious,” Commissioner Amanda Fritz said. “Remarkably, I have not received one email against this proposal.”

The only other city to pass a similar nondiscrimination regulation has been Madison, Wis., FFRF’s hometown, in 2015. This isn’t a coincidence, since FFRF member Anita Weier, supported by FFRF, was a driving force behind Madison’s statute. FFRF used that city’s law as a role model in its similar push in Portland.

In July 2017, FFRF’s Portland chapter contacted ACLU of Oregon and they jointly began work with Fritz’s office on this project. Cheryl Kolbe, president of the FFRF chapter, testified earlier in February before the City Council in favor of the ordinance.

“The question isn’t about which is right or better — religion or nonbelief,” she said. “It is about protection against discrimination. We are not asking for any special rights or privileges. We are

merely asking for the same protections against discrimination in housing, employment and accommodations that are afforded to those in a religion.”

The measure has made certain that it will not be left to a judge’s discretion to determine whether nonbelievers are protected. This protection against discrimination will be especially beneficial in a community as freethinking as Portland. It is the most religiously unaffiliated metro area in the nation, with 42 percent of the city and surrounding suburbs self-identifying as religiously unaffiliated, according to a 2015 study by the Public Religion Research Institute (PPRI).

FFRF hails the ordinance as a landmark for the freethinking community.

“Portland has proven itself to be on the cutting edge yet again,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “City officials have demonstrated that the rights of nonbelievers are every bit as important to them as any other segment of the local population.”

FFRF commends the effort put in by its Portland chapter and its president, Cheryl Kolbe, working together with FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel and FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott, to make this milestone legislation a reality.