Share →

Humanists at the UN have today strongly rejected claims from the Vatican delegation that ‘freedom from religion’ is not a human right.

In its first statement to the 37th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council this afternoon, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) was responding to comments made last Friday by the Vatican delegation. During a discussion (video) of the latest report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, the Vatican representative, Ivan Jurkovic, had disputed that ‘freedom from religion’ is covered by international law, saying that “Of the utmost concern, the use of the term freedom from religion, which is not contemplated in the international instruments, reveals a patronising idea of religion, going beyond the mandate of the special rapporteur.”

IHEU Director of Advocacy, Elizabeth O’Casey, delivering a statement at the UN Human Rights Council

Delivering IHEU’s response today, IHEU Director of Advocacy, Elizabeth O’Casey, corrected the Vatican (known as Holy See in international fora), listing the established rights which constitute freedom from religion, and highlighted why freedom from religion is so necessary for those professing no religious beliefs around the world.

O’Casey reminded the Council that:

“freedom from coercion to adopt a religion is protected by law; freedom to have no religion is protected by law; freedom to leave a religion is protected by law; and freedom to criticise a religion is protected by law.”

She also noted that in his own comments to the Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion of Belief, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, also corrected the Holy See. Shaheed stated categorically that freedom from religion is protected by the right to freedom of religion or belief. Dr Shaheed mentioned specifically how humanist, atheist and secular bloggers are under attack, and that the right to freedom of religion or belief protects the individual, not the religion or belief itself.

In her statement, O’Casey went on to highlight just why statements such as those made by the Holy See are so objectionable and dangerous; especially in the context of state-based hate and a culture of impunity allowing for violence against those who have no religious beliefs.

O’casey reminded the Council that 85 countries severely discriminate against non-religious individuals whilst seven countries were found to actively persecute the non-religious during last year. She also reminded the Council of the situation of those jailed in states such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran for being atheist or humanist, and the brutal murder of so many secularists and rationalists with impunity in Bangladesh, India and the Maldives.

Ivan Jurkovic, representing the “Holy See” mission at the UN

O’Casey also mentioned Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Malaysia and Cyprus in their promoting state hatred against atheists and humanists.

In the light of this situation, O’Casey asked how many more humanists, atheists and secularists need to be killed, imprisoned, persecuted and disproportionately targeted for the international community to begin to understand the absolute importance of freedom of religion or belief for those with no religion? She concluded, “so long as the rest of the international community stay silent, the rights of the invisible minority of non-believers across the world will continue to be trampled upon, including by members of this Council.”

O’Casey’s statement follows in full below.


ORAL STATEMENT
International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN Human Rights Council, 37th Session (27th February – 23rd March 2018)
General Debate on Item 3
Elizabeth O’Casey

During the Interactive Dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, the Holy See claimed that “freedom from religion” is not protected by international law.[1]

We’re not sure what it meant, because: freedom from coercion to adopt a religion is protected by law; freedom to have no religion is protected by law; freedom to leave a religion is protected by law; and freedom to criticise a religion is protected by law.[2]

And we might remember these freedoms when considering that:

  • 85 countries severely discriminate against non-religious individuals; seven countries actively persecute them.[3]
  • In Bangladesh, India and the Maldives bloggers and writers have been murdered for being secularists. On Saturday, Bangladeshi physicist Muhammed Zafar was stabbed in the head for being an atheist and therefore an “enemy of Islam.”[4]
  • In Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran countless individuals are imprisoned, flogged or on death row for insulting or rejecting religion.[5]

State-based hate against those with no religious belief is also notable:

  • Government officials in Malaysia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have repeatedly voiced incitement to hatred against humanists and atheists.[6]
  • In Cyprus, religious education resources recommend rejection of atheism, characterizing atheists as materialistic and immoral.[7]

The Special Rapporteur has previously observed that there exists a misconception that humanists and secularists require no protection.[8]

We ask therefore: How many more humanists, atheists and secularists need to be killed, imprisoned, persecuted and disproportionately targeted for this misconception to change?

We thank the Special Rapporteur for his correction of the Holy See’s claims last Friday, but so long as the rest of the international community stay silent, the rights of the invisible minority of non-believers across the world will continue to be trampled upon, including by members of this Council.

 

End Notes

[1] http://webtv.un.org, Holy See statement during ID with UN SR on FoRB

[2] CCPR General Comment No. 22: Article 18 (Freedom of Thought, Conscience or Religion)

[3] http://iheu.org/humanists-actively-persecuted-seven-countries-2017-finds-iheu-report/

[4] http://www.dw.com/en/bangladesh-top-secular-writer-zafar-iqbal-attacked-at-university/a-42813525; http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/nation/2018/03/04/attacked-zafar-iqbal-enemy-islam/, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/gauri-lankesh-murder-here-s-a-list-of-writers-and-journalists-killed-in-recent-years/story-LEcs4gq18AIH3WXsalDdOI.html, http://iheu.org/murder-maldives-tragic-consequence-state-democracy-obliterated/

[5] http://iheu.org/death-for-apostasy-must-not-stand-free-ashraf-fayadh/, https://www.change.org/p/amnesty-international-free-soheil-arabi

[6] http://iheu.org/atheism-dangerous-unconstitutional-says-government-minister-malaysia-wrongly/, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/28/opinion/mona-eltahawy-egypts-war-on-atheism.html http://iheu.org/humanists-denounce-proposed-law-criminalize-atheism-egypt/, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/saudi-arabia-declares-all-atheists-are-terrorists-in-new-law-to-crack-down-on-political-dissidents-9228389.html

[7] http://iheu.org/atheists-selfish-act-without-moral-inhibitions-cyprus-schools-tell-children/

[8] http://freethoughtreport.com/editorial-introduction/

More News from IHEU

11 Responses to Actually, ‘freedom from religion’ is a human right, IHEU tells Vatican at the UN

  1. Lowell D. Williams says:

    Repent & Turn from your Wicked ways, I have and shall get the removal of every last one of you Rebellious against the Most High YHWH Catholic/Jesuits, Homosexual, Pedophile, Thieves, Liar’s, Subverts of Gods Will and Law international, Over Thrower of Nations and Peoples, Your days are Numbered I always have my Prayers answered as they are the Will of YHWH and I have prayed for Judgment to come upon Every Last one of you and your family line. Not My Will but Your Will YHWH be done in Yeshua’s/Jesus’s Name!!!!!!! I have a right to be Free from You all!!!!!!!

    • IHEU Admin says:

      Thanks for your comment, Lowell… We don’t normally publish let alone respond to religious threats/insults, but just to clarify regarding your last point (“I have a right to be Free from You all!!!!!!!”) : This seems to imply you desire to be free from certain kinds of people. But the claim of ‘freedom from religion’ is about beliefs and ideas, not other human beings. It’s about being free from compulsion and coercion, being free to adopt, drop or change our own worldviews.

      So when we talk about ‘freedom from religion’ it is *not* a demand not to see or interact with religious people for example! (A world in which being able to demand segregation was a right would be horribly dystopian…) Rather, ‘freedom from religion’ means being free to criticize a person’s beliefs in public discourse, or to refuse to participate in a religious ritual perhaps, and not to have the religious demands or moral codes of others imposed on us, for example.

  2. Patricia Emlyn-Williams says:

    What on earth is the Catholic Church doing at the UN in the first place? No other religious body has the same rights, and there is no doubt that the Vatican officials at the UN have a very pernicious influence on the representatives from Catholic countries. Why does the UN allow this to continue? The Holy See is not a state in any way at all, and should not be allowed to wield influence in this way.

    • Lisa says:

      Unfortunately, as I understand it, the Holy See represents Vatican City diplomatically which is indeed a sovereign state – an odd one and the influence is definitely questionable I agree.

  3. Monika says:

    It is a human right to have freedom from religion. Anyway you can force people to do a lot of things, but you can never force anyone in believing in anything, no matter how hard you try. Which is a good thing :-). It’s time to leave the Mediaval times and arrive to the 21st century.

  4. R.J says:

    Thanks for this information and Indi of Canadian atheists for bringing it to my attention.

  5. XaurreauX says:

    Secularism is for grownups.

  6. khalid ansari says:

    Yes Religious Freedom is the fundamental right of every human being. The right to criticize religious beliefs of humanity can not be the fundamental one. Remember everyone can be at their best when they are before Superpower they believe in. They may call him/her their Lord, God, Yahweh, Allah or whatever. While repenting & asking for blessings people can be at their best–Not lying not being hypocrites, not being harmful to anyone. Let this blessing of being in direct contact with the power people believe in be there. Talk to me on how to make our universe SAFER a place– for each of its living being.

    • IHEU Admin says:

      Khalid, as humanists we wouldn’t agree that a “Superpower they believe in” necessarily makes people better. We think our values and living a good life can come from our humanity (rather than any divinity) and we base decisions on more down-to-earth considerations, for example asking how can we make the world and civilization better? We will think not about any divine power, but about our obligations to each other, to other animals, the environment and to future generations. http://iheu.org/humanism/what-is-humanism/

      On the point you make that’s more immediate to the human rights topic here: note that specifically “religious freedom” is only one aspect of the broader human right which we all share (religious or not), which is the “right to freedom of thought, conscience or religion” (as article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights puts it). And much of the international discourse uses “freedom of religion or belief”, where the ‘belief’ part explicitly includes non-religious worldviews and convictions. So “religious freedom” isn’t a special right that only religious people have, it’s one aspect of a broader right to think and believe freely.

      Part of the reason why this is important is because obviously there is a large and growing number people who identify as humanist, atheist, non-religious etc and often their rights are denied (see our Freedom of Thought Report on that topic http://freethoughtreport.com).

      And in that context you can see why your criticism of “the right to criticize religious beliefs” is wrong. In fact, both freedom of expression and freedom of thought and belief are considered “fundamental” rights, and both are involved in expressing views (whether assenting or dissenting) about the core convictions that people hold. For someone to criticize religion, or a particular belief, practice or religious leader for example, is protected as a fundamental right. We also have the right to say that we are humanists, or to advocate atheism or agnosticism and so on. Equally, a religious believer has the right to criticise humanism or atheism and to advocate for their own beliefs. In all directions, exercising these rights depends on doing it peacefully and not straying into discrimination or coercion (that’s because there’s an important proviso: even fundamental rights cannot be manifested in such a way that they restrict the rights of others!)

  7. Greg Foster says:

    From the perspective of a vast cosmos, indifferent to the plight of life on Earth, we humans are obligated to apply wisdom focused on that which enables us to thrive as a species subject to natural laws. That being said, we humans are subject to the mental processes implemented by the brain to form “beliefs”. Those processes are partially endowed via genetic inheritance and partially the result of human nurturing to instill ethical/moral behavior. Genetic factors are beyond control from birth. Therefore, nurturing factors that influence those mental processes to result in “beliefs” should have supporting evidence that long-term benefits to human thriving will result. In other words, in our human wisdom, we must show that requiring the application of the influence of the doctrinal apparatus employed by religions to establish the “right’ beliefs, will gain long term enhancement of capability of humans to thrive.

  8. Lisa says:

    So well said as always Elizabeth O’Casey. I also really like the point that that Dr Shaheed made: “Dr Shaheed mentioned specifically how humanist, atheist and secular bloggers are under attack, and that the right to freedom of religion or belief protects the individual, not the religion or belief itself.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *