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Atheists, Humanists Decry Smear Campaign Against State Department Program Supporting Inclusive Religious Freedom Programming

WASHINGTON, DC — In response to a letter released yesterday by the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), Subcommittee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman Brian Mast (R-FL), and Subcommittee on Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ), American Atheists president Nick Fish released the following statement:

It is appalling that the Republican Majority on the House Foreign Affairs Committee continues their campaign of mischaracterization, distortions, and unmitigated lies to attack the vital and lifesaving work of Humanists International. Their attempts to weaponize inclusive Freedom of Religion or Belief programs by the State Department are nothing more than cynical political gamesmanship — and outright appeals to Christian nationalism.

In their letter, McCaul, Mast, and Smith attack a State Department grant intended to promote religious freedom for atheists, humanists, and other nonreligious people by making the odious claim that “Christian and Muslim minorities [], unlike atheists and humanists, face real persecution in the relevant parts of South Asia.” 

The fact is that atheists, humanists, and other nonreligious people face state-sanctioned violence across the globe, including in South Asia, because of their religious minority status. The committee’s politically motivated attacks minimize these threats and put the lives of nonreligious people, including those who participated in the program, at risk.

For years, State Department grants have helped protect a variety of religious groups from this kind of persecution abroad, particularly in the Middle East, Northern Africa, and South and Central Asia. Humanists, atheists, and other nonreligious people need — and deserve — access to the same protections. 

We are proud to support programs that promote democracy, pluralism, and universal respect for Freedom of Religion or Belief and ensure that protecting those values remains a core objective of American foreign policy. 

We commend the Biden Administration’s State Department for advancing an inclusive and pluralistic approach to their Freedom of Religion or Belief work, including grants aimed at promoting religious freedom in Afghanistan inclusive of “Shia Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Hindus, and others,”  for expanding religious tolerance in Mozambique given the prevalence of “religiously motivated discrimination among the various Christian faiths practiced in northern Mozambique,” and for supporting religious equality in Bangladesh because the “government sometimes fails to hold accountable the perpetrators of mob violence against minority Hindu, Christian, Ahmadi, and Humanist communities.” 

The fact that none of these grants drew the ire of the Committee makes it clear that their selective outrage about purported Establishment Clause violations is entirely about their animus toward atheists and humanists — and a desire to attack the Biden Administration — and not any genuine concern about the work of Humanists International or fealty to the Constitution. 

Religious freedom is a universal human right. It is not, as Reps.  McCaul, Mast, and Smith seem to think, a cudgel to be wielded against disfavored groups for political gain.