The International Humanist and Ethical Union has issued a long report on worldwide discrimination against atheists: “Freedom of thought 2012: A global report on discrimination against humanists, atheists, and the nonreligious” (“FT2012”; free download at link). The report was created with the cooperation of the American Humanist Association, the Center for Inquiry, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, and the Secular Coalition for America (thanks, guys!).
The 69-page report was discussed in a recent article in the Washington Post, “The seven countries where the state can execute you for being an atheist.” Those countries are shown on the map below (in red), along with countries where nonbelief can send you to jail (orange), and those where nonbelievers have reduced rights (yellow):
Data source: International Humanist and Ethical Union (Max Fisher/Washington Post)
As the Post reports:
The report tracks, among other things, which countries have laws explicitly targeting atheists. There are not many, but the states that forbid non-religiousness – typically as part of “anti-blasphemy” legislation – include seven nations where atheism is punishable by death. All seven establish Islam as the state religion. Though that list includes some dictatorships, the country that appears to most frequently condemn atheists to death for their beliefs is actually a democracy, if a frail one: Pakistan. Others include Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Sudan, the West African state of Mauritania, and the Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean. These countries are colored red on the above map.
You should have a look at the report, since it’s free and you don’t have to read the bulk of it, which details the discrimination in many countries. But a few remarks.
The right to nonbelief is protected by the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, specifically articles 18 and 19:
- Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
- Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
But as FT2012 notes:
Although atheist speech is protected by both Article 18 and Article 19, there has been a regrettable tendency to defend atheist speech by appeal solely to Article 19 while religious speech is defended by appeal to Article 18. Indeed, when the UN debated whether to outlaw “defamation of religions”, some countries [JAC: I believe that the countries promoting the “anti-defamation” language were mostly Islamic] tried to frame the debate as a conflict between Articles 18 and 19, between the rights of religion and the right to free speech. Of course, there is no such conflict: religions do not have human rights; individuals have human rights, including the right to speak and the right to manifest their beliefs through religious criticism and persuasion. . .
Article 18 also protects the rights of atheists, humanists and other non-religious people beyond freedom of expression. It protects the right not to reveal your beliefs or religious identification, and the right not to take part in religious ceremonies. It protects the right to have or adopt atheist beliefs or to leave a religion. It also guarantees the right to practice and teach your non-religious beliefs, and even to perform ceremonies—including weddings, funerals and other rites of passage—in accordance with those beliefs.
Finally, the report notes the increase in nonbelief:
Atheists (those who do not believe in any god), and humanists (those who embrace a morality that does not appeal to any supernatural source), and others who consider themselves non-religious, are a large and growing population across the world. A detailed survey in 2012 revealed that religious people make up 59% of the world population, while those who identify as “atheist” make up 13%, and an additional 23% identify as “not religious” (while not self-identifying as “atheist”). The report by the Gallup International Association (available at http://www.wingia.co /web/files/news/14/file/14.pdf) is in line with other recent global surveys. It shows that atheism and the non-religious population are growing rapidly—religion dropped by 9% and atheism rose by 3% between 2005 and 2012—and that religion declines in proportion to the rise in education and personal income, which is a trend that looks set to continue.
The report aims to document threats to nonbelievers’ freedom of conscience, and 56 pages of the 69-page report are devoted to specific countries. Many of the violations occur in Africa and the Middle East, but Europe and North America aren’t immune. A few excerpts from reports on the latter:
The constitution and other laws protect freedom of religion or belief. However, the criminal code addresses the insulting of faiths, religious societies, and ideological groups. Article 166 of the German Criminal Code states, “Whoever publicly or through dissemination of writings insults the content of others’ religious faith or faith related to a philosophy of life in a manner that is capable of disturbing the public peace, shall be punished with imprisonment for not more than three years or a fine.”
The constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of religion or belief. However, under article 724 of the penal code, blasphemy is considered as an “administrative offense” and punished with a fine. Administrative law requires that all classrooms in state schools display crucifixes.
The constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of religion or belief. However, Poland’s penal code states “Whoever offends religious feelings of other people by publicly insulting an object of religious cult or a place for public holding of religious ceremonies, is subject to a fine, restriction of liberty or loss of liberty for up to 2 years.”
The constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of religion or belief. Members of religious communities are allowed to designate part of their income tax to go to their church, but the nonreligious have consistently been refused the right to designate their Humanist Association to enjoy the same privilege.
Chapter 16 Section 8 of the penal code criminalizes “A person who, in a disseminated statement or communication, threatens or expresses contempt for a national, ethnic or other such group of persons with allusion to race, colour, national or ethnic origin or religious belief…”
More than 30% of state-funded schools (which are 100% funded by public monies) in England and Wales are run by church authorities, and their number is increasing. These schools are allowed to discriminate against students—in their admission policies—and teachers—in hiring, discipline and firing, even in subjects that do not relate to the religious mission of the school—based on their religion (either because they are not religious or belong to a different religion or denomination than the school authorities) or their personal life (for example, teachers may be fired, or simply not hired, because of their sexual orientation or even because they have children out of wedlock). The right to discriminate in employment was recently extended to non-teaching posts in England. In addition, a large number of these schools have statutory obligations to provide confessional religious teaching rather than nonconfessional teaching which, again, is entirely publicly funded.
In England and Wales, every state-funded school (which are 100% funded by public monies) is legally required to hold a daily act of collective worship.
And oh, Canada!
The constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of religion or belief. However six of the ten provinces provide partial or full funding to religious schools. Most of these publicly funded religious schools are Roman Catholic. Although five provinces allow other denominations to run publicly funded schools. Publicly funded religious schools can discriminate on religious grounds in hiring and in accepting students. Around 16 percent of the Canadian population claims no religious affiliation, yet in the vast low-population expanses of Canada, the religious school may well be the only public school within a reasonable distance for many non-religious students.
Ontario is the only province that funds Catholic religious education while providing no funding for other religious schools. One third of Ontario’s public schools (around 1,400) are Catholic schools, and they receive 100% of their funding from the government. Catholic schools discriminate against non-Catholics in hiring staff. Catholic schools can also exclude non-Catholic children.
The U.S. isn’t immune, either, of course. Although we have constitutional protection of both religious and nonreligious expression, there are still (unenforceable) laws on the books like these:
At least seven states–Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas–have in place constitutional provisions that bar atheists from holding public office. One state (Arkansas) even has a law that bars an atheist from testifying as a witness at a trial. The Supreme Court effectively struck down these kind of provisions as unconstitutional in 1961. However, their continued existence is a reminder of the pervasiveness of the idea that atheists are untrustworthy, and perhaps even not truly American.
The report also refers to the pervasive proselytizing that occurs in the U.S. military.
Come on, Brits and Canadians—get rid of that government-funded, faith-based education! We’ll work on stuff here in the U.S.
h/t: John B.