On the Hill: Censorship of Turkish Atheist Website Highlights Need for Congressional Involvement

In the past few weeks, numerous instances of discrimination or outright violence against atheists have shocked nontheists around the world. While groups like the International Humanist and Ethical Union have reported for years on the increasing trend of hatred and oppression experienced by atheists (IHEU through their Freedom of Thought Report), much of the world is just now learning about it because of recent media reporting on the hardships faced by nonbelievers globally.

The most recent instance of discrimination, in which Turkey’s first official atheist group had their website taken down after a court ruling, deemed it an “insult to religious values,” is a continuation of this trend. The Turkish organization, called the Atheism Association, responded to the ruling by stating:

Three months ago, the European Space Agency managed to put Philae on a one-km wide comet named 67P, which has a speed of 135,00p km/h, after a 3,907-day-long journey to a location 500 million km away. Meanwhile, courts in Turkey are still busy blocking websites, citing laws with vague expressions and trying to make a certain belief dominate the others.

While the Turkish case was thankfully a case of nonviolent discrimination, other nontheists have not been so lucky. A few weeks before, American citizen and prominent atheist blogger Avijit Roy was murdered in his native Bangladesh while returning from a book fair with his wife. Roy was hacked to death on a public street, while his wife lost a finger and was taken to the hospital.

In response to this public murder, the American Humanist Association sent a letter to US Senators and Representatives, demanding hearings on the global persecution of nonbelievers by religious extremists. In addition, the AHA is working with other nonreligious and religious groups to hold a congressional briefing on religious persecution faced by religious minorities and nontheists so as to educate congressional staffers about the issue.

Congress has a unique role to play in this situation, which could save countless atheists from needless discrimination and even death. By holding a hearing on this issue, Congress would show to countries around the world that the basic right to religious freedom is a top priority of the American people. This would have an impact on the numerous countries that receive US aid, which happens to include the majority of the countries in which atheists are discriminated against, as these countries recognize that our aid is conditional on the support of the American people. Congress could also pass resolutions calling on these countries to deal with their unjust laws against atheists or that direct the US State Department to focus more closely on the issue in their international work.

Discrimination against atheists solely due to their nontheistic beliefs can take many forms, from nonviolent social discrimination to abusive government oppression, but all these different forms of discrimination have the same effect: they intimidate many nontheists into silence for fear of reprisals. Congress must take the lead and show the world that such actions are unacceptable and will be firmly opposed by Americans of all religious beliefs and of none.

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