Most people don’t seem to know that in 1998, the U.S. government created the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan group tasked with tracking international violations of religious freedom and making policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.

Most people also don’t seem to know that the concept of “religious freedom” doesn’t just protect religious believers — it also protects atheists, skeptics, and other dissidents. 

This op-ed, penned by Katrina Lantos Swett and M. Zuhdi Jasser, provides both an introduction to USCIRF and a clarification on what “religious freedom” really means:

While religious freedom is an integral part of our heritage, it also is misunderstood. A key misunderstanding concerns the matter of belief. Simply stated, religious freedom means not only the right to believe, but the freedom to disbelieve — to embrace any religion and to reject every religion.

People express their religious freedom by choosing theism, atheism or any other response to ultimate questions. Religious freedom allows them to follow wherever their conscience leads. …

Those who stand unequivocally for other freedoms, including freedoms of speech and press, association and assembly, also must support religious freedom, just as those who stand for the right of believers to follow their conscience must do the same for nonbelievers.