Atheists, humanists and liberals targeted by hate campaigns

December 10, 2014

Non­religious people are being targeted by “hate campaigns” in countries around the world, as a distinct minority group, a new report has found.

The report claims that the “hate speech” against atheists does not come exclusively from reactionary or radical religious leaders, but increasingly from political leaders, including heads of state.

Published today [10 December] by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) of which Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) is a member, the Freedom of Thought Report states: “In 2014, in addition to laws such as those targeting “apostasy” and “blasphemy”, we have seen a marked increase in specific targeting of “atheists” and “humanism” as such, using these terms in a broadly correct way (the users know what they are saying) but with intent clearly borne of ignorance or intolerance toward these groups.”

Cases covered in the report include the Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, who this year labelled “humanism and secularism as well as liberalism” as “deviant” and a threat to Islam and the state itself, in a speech where he also denied that Malaysians had any right to “apostasy” (leaving Islam).

Saudi Arabia comes into criticism for a new law equating “atheism” with “terrorism”. The very first article of the kingdom’s new terror regulations banned: “Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion”.

Even the supposedly secular regime of Egypt’s president Sisi was found to target atheists directly, through what the report calls “an organized backlash against young atheists”. Beginning in June, Nuamat Sati of the Ministry of Youth announced a campaign to spread awareness of “the dangers of atheism” and why it is “a threat to society”, so that young atheists in particular, who are increasingly vocal on social media would be given “a chance to reconsider their decisions and go back to their religion.”

In the past few months, Egyptian authorities have detained young atheists who appeared on TV media and Youtube videos talking about their right to express atheist views, and in a worrying an unusual development in November, Christian churches actually “joined forces” with Egypt’s Al­Azhar in another anti­atheism campaign, saying that “Society should resist this phenomenon [of atheism]”.

Closer to home, Scotland comes under criticism for the religiously privileged position afforded to three ‘religious representatives’ who are required by law to be appointed to all 32 local authority education committees. These positions require at least one Roman Catholic and one Church of Scotland representative, but non-religious people are excluded. The report also highlighted the disparity of sex and relationships education, and religious education between Roman Catholic faith schools and others. The report welcomes the positive moves made earlier this year by the Church of Scotland and Humanist Society Scotland to work together to replace compulsory ‘religious observance’ with inclusive Time for Reflection.

Previous editions of the Freedom of Thought Report, which considers and rates every country in the world for anti­atheist persecution, found that almost all countries discriminate against the non­religious, in some cases through religious privilege or legal exemption, with the worst countries refusing to issue identity cards to the non­religious, taking children from atheist parents, or sentencing “apostates” to death.

The 2014 edition of the report notes: “This year will be marked by a surge in this phenomenon of state officials and political leaders agitating specifically against non­religious people, just because they have no religious beliefs, in terms that would normally be associated with hate speech or social persecution against ethnic or religious minorities.”
Reacting to the publication of the report, HSS Chief Executive Douglas McLellan said:
“We welcome this report from IHEU. It is a timely reminder that humanists and atheists are all too often the victims of violence and intimidation by states around the world, and even in many Western European countries humanists and atheists face discrimination.

“The Humanist Society Scotland will continue to work with partner agencies to remove religious privilege and discrimination from Scotland. We will continue to advocate for the removal of undemocratic ‘religious representatives’ which are an affront to those who value democracy.

“We are also currently campaigning the Scottish Government to ensure that they make up-to-date high quality sex education available to all young people in Scotland – regardless of what school they go to.

“Many commentators in Scotland still seem unable to mention humanists or atheists without adding the term ‘militant’ or ‘aggressive’, I hope this report will make them reflect on how hurtful that is to the many millions of Scots who wish to lead an ethical and fulfilling life without reference to religion.

McLellan concluded, “The HSS consider the right to freedom of thought and expression to be fundamental, we will continue to work towards a fairer and more secular Scotland.”


The Freedom of Thought Report is published by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) with contributions from independent researchers and IHEU Member Organisations around the world.


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