IHEU Statement To The United Nations Highlights Dangers To Religious Dissenters In The World

image of a Holy Bible with a warning sticker

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) gave a report to the United Nations detailing that Atheists, humanists, freethinkers and other non-religious people are discriminated against around the world, where expression of their views is often criminalized and subject in some countries to capital punishment. The report was in response to efforts by Islamic countries to obtain a world ban on “defamation of religion” which mirrors efforts by religious conservatives in the United States attempting to cover their bigotry under the guise of “religious freedom”.

“This discrimination comes in two forms. Firstly, discrimination against non-religious communities through a nation’s constitution and/or legal system. For example, some governments outlaw the very existence of atheists, and others prosecute people who express their religious doubts or dissent regardless of whether those dissenters identify as atheist. Secondly, and more commonly, discrimination occurs against secular people when they manifest their conscience by acting against the dictates of the religion of their family, community or country. …

“Whilst only a handful of countries criminalize atheism per se, the punishment in those that do can be extremely severe: in Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan atheists can face the death penalty on the grounds of their beliefs. In several countries legal measures either effectively criminalize atheism, criminalize the expression and manifestation of atheist beliefs, or result in systematic discrimination against atheists and those who reject religion.

“These measures include a range of laws regulating various aspects of peoples’ lives, for example laws outlawing apostasy and religious conversion in Bahrain, Comoros, Maldives, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan. Compulsory religious registration in conjunction with a list of religions permitted by government, such as in Indonesia and Jordan, is also discriminatory. In Iran, citizens have to declare their faith in one of the four officially recognized religions in order to be able to claim a number of legal rights, such as to apply for the general examination to enter any university in Iran. In Burma, Djibouti, and Maldives, certain forms of political participation (such as holding office or voting) depend upon citizens officially registering themselves as having certain religious affiliations.”

IHEU highlights the criminalisation of atheism in many parts of the world

The IHEU also pointed out the hypocrisy of three states on the UN’s Human Rights Council having laws giving the death penalty for blasphemy against Islam and the efforts by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to criminalize “defamation of religion” and calling expressions of atheism, racism.

Religious freedom and freedom of expression are not opposed to each other.

“Finally, we urge the Human Rights Council to reject any suggestion of a conflict between Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; that is, between the rights of religion and the right to free speech. There is no such conflict: religions do not have human rights, individuals do – including the right to speak and the right to manifest their beliefs through religious criticism and persuasion. Only once this is acknowledged will we see an end to discrimination based on belief.” – IEHU

Although we haven’t seen any atheists put to death here in the USyet – we do see efforts here, like those from the OIC, to use the cry of “religious freedom” to mask bigotry not only against religious dissenters, but other religions and minorites like LGBT people.

This is a huge slippery slope that we can’t afford to slide down.