Non-religious people are being targeted by “hate campaigns” in countries around the world, as a distinct minority group, the latest edition of the Freedom of Thought 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), 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 and unusual development in November, Christian churches actually “joined forces” with Egypt’s Al-Azhar in another anti-atheism campaign, saying that “Society should resist this phenomenon [of atheism]”.
The Freedom of Thought Report annually surveys and rates every country in the world for anti-atheist persecution. Almost all countries discriminate against the non-religious, in some cases through religious privilege or legal exemptions, with the worst countries taking children from atheist parents, or with laws mandating death sentences for “apostates” (in 13 Islamic states).
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 non-religious 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.”