The World is a Violent and Dangerous Place for Atheists

A new report finds thatstate-sanctioned discrimination and violence againstthe non-religious has increased in the past year, but the good news is there may be reason for hope.

The Freedom of Thought Reportby the International Humanist and Ethical Union(available for download here)is an annual release that gives an insight into the discrimination and persecution that people without religious faith and those who say they are secular humanists face in today’s world.

The report was first published in 2012 and was designed to highlight that while protecting religious faith is a high priority for nearly every world government, the rights of atheists, humanists and freethinkers to not subscribe to faith is often overlooked, despite the fact that the freedom to not believe is a critical aspect of ensuring religious freedom for all.

This year’s report reinforced what other studies have shown: that in as many as 19 countries people can face draconian penalties for the crime of “apostasy” or leaving the Islamic faith,while in 12 countries people can even face the death penalty — though admittedly that is rarely applied. These may be at the extreme end of the scale, but in terms of more general laws around 55 nations, including some in the West, there are laws against blasphemy which can be used to pursue non-believers.

What is perhaps new in this report is a developing trend that sees more and more nations specifically targeting self-defining atheists, secularists and humanists.

For instance, in January, Saudi Arabia proposed and later enacted an anti-terrorism law that also included a stipulation “Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion.” Similarly, and to take another example from the report,in June Egyptian authorities attempted a crackdown on young atheists, with government officials running a youth program targeting young social media users to tell them about how atheism is a supposed “threat to society” and to give those young people “a chance to reconsider their decisions and go back to their religion.” This was not pure policy either, with police detaining atheists as radicals forexpressing anti-religious or simply non-religious viewpoints. The problem is not just confined to Islamic nations, either.

The in-depth report, which breaks down the problems atheists and the non religious face by country, alsohighlights the role that the Catholic Church currently plays in failing to prevent discrimination against atheists. While this isn’t alwaysovert (though in some cases it is),religious authorities may speak out against atheism, labeling it dangerous and immoral. As a result, the non-religious are stigmatized which may add to the danger of discrimination and violence.

Interestingly, though, the authors of the report are quietly hopeful that there may be a positive side to this new trend, at least for the long term.Bob Churchill, communications director at the International Humanist and Ethical Union, explains in an article talking about the report:

In recognising atheism and humanism as cohesive worldviews, secular and naturalistic but not reducible to a stance on any one religion or authority, the haters may inadvertently be familiarising their societies to the very ideas they are trying to resist. If 2014 has seen something of a surge in hate directed at atheists, it is at least a backlash against a steadily globalising conception of non-religious identities.

And in terms of anecdotal cases, we know that there is a growing movement of secularists who are prepared to be vocal and visible, particularly through social media. This can be dangerous of course, as one man fromNigeria found out after his family had him committed following his coming out as atheist. Yet, while carrying its own dangers, this visibility is allowing more people to see the issue of the right to freedom from religion and as such is contributing to the slow changing of hearts and minds.

The report calls on world governments to do more to protect atheists, secularists and humanists. Nations have relied on religious laws to protect these groups. The report stresses that under international human rights standards, including Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to freedom of thought and expression is expressly protected and therefore the right to not hold a belief is similarly given protection. This means that atheists do not have to be labeled as “religious” in order to receive these protections, as often happens even in Western countries. As such, the Declaration givesa structural framework through which world governments can give protections to the nonreligious as a minority group, and through whichthey can begin tracking and compiling data on the hardships the nonreligiousface and then take appropriate, and much needed, action.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

164 comments

Darren Woolsey
Darren W1 years ago

Every group has its good people and evil people. Some who claim to be theists, such as Hitler and Torquemada, have done much evil, and the same goes for those who claim to be atheists, such as Stalin and Chairman Mao.

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Darren Woolsey
Darren W1 years ago

Every group has its good people and evil people. Some who claim to be theists, such as Hitler and Torquemada, have done much evil, and the same goes for those who claim to be atheists, such as Stalin and Chairman Mao.

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Harley W.
Harley W1 years ago

Seems I figured out a way to repost Margaret Goodman post from my phone. Didn't mean to do that.

Hitler claimed to be a Christian when he needed to get someone on his side. But in his private notes. He didn't believe in GOD. Many of his followers were involved in different types of rewrites of pagan history.

We should care about others no matter ours or their religious beliefs.

But Christians are commanded to love others no matter what. Just many don't put that into practice.

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Harley W.
Harley W1 years ago

Every group has its good people and evil people. Some who claim to be theists, such as Hitler and Torquemada, have done much evil, and the same goes for those who claim to be atheists, such as Stalin and Chairman Mao.

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Margaret Goodman
Margaret G1 years ago

Every group has its good people and evil people. Some who claim to be theists, such as Hitler and Torquemada, have done much evil, and the same goes for those who claim to be atheists, such as Stalin and Chairman Mao.

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Melania Padilla
Melania P2 years ago

LIVE AND LET LIVE

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Mandy H.
Mandy H2 years ago

I think given the behavior of the Catholic Church and all the sexual abuse allegations that it's more moral to be atheist since after all there's no institutionalised abuse because they're no institution. I must admit with the exception of Islamic countries I didn't realise that there was much discrimination for those who are atheist and agnostic because it's not an issue in Australia or at least not that I've ever encountered.

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Karen H.
Karen H2 years ago

Harley W, sounds like you're on the right path.
I should probably amend my statement that I have met FEW (rather than "no") real Christians who follow Jesus' path.
Because I deal with people of all faiths (and no faiths), I use the term "Universe" rather than "God" or "Jesus" or whatever. And you're right, the Universe (or God, if you feel that works for you) does provide. The Universe provides in abundance, and I accept my share.
Live Long & Prosper.

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JL A.
JL A2 years ago

I'm glad people take the time to do what it takes for this report

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Quanta Kiran
Quanta K2 years ago

noted

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