Today Humanists International launched the 11th edition of the Freedom of Thought Report at an event in Washington DC. The theme for this year’s Key Countries edition explores the link between levels of state secularism and the discrimination faced by non-religious people.
The Freedom of Thought Report is a unique worldwide survey of discrimination and persecution against humanists, atheists and the non-religious. It serves as a vital tool for local and international activists to lobby governments for change, providing the evidence needed to make reliable and authoritative claims.
Each year, the launch of the Key Countries edition is widely covered internationally, providing coverage in the media that would rarely happen otherwise and opening the door for conversation on a topic all too easily ignored.
This year’s Report is introduced by Rishvin Ismath, Founding President of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Sri Lanka. Sharing his experiences, Rishvin recounts: “When I was a kid, my freedom was either stolen or controlled by elders such as parents, teachers, relatives, even the neighbors…. Once I opened my eyes wide and realized that I was fooled by imaginations, fictions, lies…utter lies, I left the religion, and yet I did not have the freedom to declare myself as an ex-Muslim, because I was conscious of the consequences. When I did eventually declare my true self—an ex-Muslim—…I lost the last iota of the freedom I had.”
Humanists International’s latest research exposes that only four percent of the global population live in societies that are truly secular, where there is a clear separation of religious and political authorities that do not discriminate against any religion or belief community.
The research also shows that seventy percent of the world’s population live in countries where the expression of humanist values is severely repressed; where the full realization of one’s right to freedom of religion or belief is impossible. The result: harsh penalties for apostasy; a higher likelihood of the perpetuation of harmful traditional practices; religious nationalism entrenching conservative values within society.
The Report lays bare the effects of an absence of state secularism on non-religious people, exposing that, when contested, the non-religious are liable to face the gravest violations of their human rights.
President of Humanists International, Andrew Copson, commented: “This year’s Report provides evidence of clear and systematic discrimination against humanists and non-religious people, and this discrimination is most prevalent in countries with less state secularism. State secularism appears to be a prerequisite for the full enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief.”
Through ten country chapters, the Key Countries edition demonstrates the increasing erasure of the principle of secularism across the globe, and with it, a decline in the protection of human rights. The report also reveals how extreme enforcement of so-called “neutrality” in the name of secularism can also impinge on the rights of others.
The Report exposes the harmful social and political consequences of both extremes of the spectrum of secularism, supporting the organization’s assertions that true secularism, which is inclusive of all, “is the best approach to politics and the ordering of states, and that it has proved itself to have greater potential for human freedom, happiness, and equality than all other political settlements in history.”
Thanks to the Report, Humanists International and its Members and Associates are better able to support non-religious people at risk in their own country. This might be by using information in a country entry to inform a letter of support for an asylum claim. It might be using the report to challenge a State’s long-standing discriminatory policies—often existing because of a lack of understanding about the right to Freedom of Religion or Belief, and the experience of the non-religious.
As a registered charity and non-governmental organization (NGO), Humanists International relies on donations and legacies from Members and supporters to continue its vital campaigning and advocacy work, including the Freedom of Thought Report.
Due to current economic pressures and increasing demands on the organization’s services, this year it has been necessary for the team at Humanists International to review the way the Report is updated and make some changes. Going forward, the team plans to move from the current 3-year cycle of updates to a 5-year cycle, with the aim of updating forty countries per year.
Emma Wadsworth-Jones, Coordinator of Humanists International’s Humanists at Risk program, commented: “We recognize that updating fewer countries each year could have a detrimental effect on the relevance of the Report. For this reason, we will update a country outside of the 5-year cycle, where the update is significant. This might include, for example, the passage of legislation discriminatory against the non-religious, changes to the Constitution influencing secularism, or blasphemy laws.”