In updating an 18-year-old religious freedom law, Congress this year decided for the first time to expressly protect the rights of people around the world who practice no religion at all. President Obama signed the International Religious Freedom Act on Friday, hailed by Republicans and Democrats as way to strengthen the ability of the United States to call out countries that oppress or persecute people for their religious beliefs.

But now the law includes a reference to nonbelievers as well. “The freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is understood to protect theistic and non-theistic beliefs and the right not to profess or practice any religion,” according to the new law governing international programs, which passed the House and Senate unanimously, without controversy. READ MORE