The same week Indiana lawmakers introduced LGBT protections as a response to outrage over their so-called religious freedom bill, Madison, Wis., added another group to its own protected class.
Atheism will now receive the same protections for employment, housing, and public accommodations as other groups after the city council there voted unanimously for the addition to the ordinance, according to WISC-TV. The protected class list in Madison previously included the usual sex, race, religion, and age specifications, but it also protects for things like physical appearance and if someone declines to disclose his or her social security number.
No group faces more discrimination in politics than atheists, according to a 2012 Gallup poll. The poll found 43 percent of voters said they would not vote for an atheist candidate for president -- a higher percentage than Muslims or gays and lesbians.
There are currently no openly atheist members of Congress. Maggie Ardiente of the American Humanist Association claimed there are 24 who told her group privately they were closet atheists, during an interview with Religion News Service last year, but there's no way to confirm that number. And although it's not enforced, there are eight states in which atheists technically cannot hold office: Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South, Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.
Atheists are underrepresented in national politics. They make up 4 percent of U.S. adults, according to a December Pew poll, and there's evidence that percentage could increase. Pew's new study on the future of world religions released Thursday found the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated will grow from 16.4 percent to 25.6 percent between 2010 and 2050.
"Religiously unaffiliated" is a much bigger group than just atheists. It also includes agnostics and people who don't identify with a specific religion, so that increase can also be attributed to people who consider themselves spiritual or religious. But atheists have already increased from 1.6 percent to 4 percent in just the last seven years, according to Pew.
This growth means Madison might be the first of many local and state governments that decides it wants to protect those without a religious identity just as much as it protects those with one.