You may not know, but there is a U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) that serves as an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government agency created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. The USCIRF exists to monitor the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad; makes policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress; and tracks the implementation of these recommendations.
The USCIRF just published their 2022 Annual Report, and (with all the appendices) it is 100 pages of information regarding what's happening in nations where governments repress religious freedom through laws and policies that coerce compliance with a particular religious interpretation, typically one that aligns with an official or state-favored religion. Governments. Coerce. Religion.
This report centers on violations of religions freedom. It is a federal agency publication--so it is almost a technical read. (Hard to grasp that adjective being used on some levels, when the word 'torture' appears 32 times, 'killing' appears 17 times, 'flogging' appears 3 times, 'genocide' appears 35 times...well, you get the idea.) Documenting these violations is certainly important work, and getting the information out to decision makers (and the media and the world) matters, but it invariably feels so remote.
But as I read through the report, I think about the ACA's programming. We hear from people from these countries (calls, comments, emails) because our shows on YouTube and other platforms have a reach that is remarkable. The work of the Atheist Community of Austin, for twenty-five years, has been to create programming dedicated to promoting atheism, critical thinking, secular humanism, and the separation of religion and government. There have been hundreds of program hosts through the years. There have been tens of thousands of volunteer hours donated by individuals who have been on camera and on the crews that make it happen.
All to keep the space intact, the space where the conversations happen. The space where it is safe to declare oneself an atheist, or uncertain. A space that we should never take for granted. And if we do, a look at the report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom will remind us why this matters.
Deepest respect for everyone who contributes their time and talent to this work. And profound gratitude for the hundreds of thousands of individuals who have found our shows and given even greater value to the investment of everyone involved in ACA programs.