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Religious Tolerance logo

Freedom of religious and other beliefs:

Should freedom of belief extend
to secular individuals and groups
practicing Agnosticism, Atheism,
Ethical Culture, Free thought,
Rationalism, Secular Humanism, etc?

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A quotation:

This was taken from a letter by Rafida Bonya Ahmed whose husband was Avijit Roy, a Humanist. They lived in Bangladesh. He received death threats because of his writings:

"... on topics including the origins of the whole Universe, homosexuality, the evolution of love and everything including literary criticism in between."

They were attacked at a book fair in Dhaka during 2015-FEB. She sustained four head wounds and an amputated thumb. He was murdered. She writes:

"Allowing bigotry and extremism to fester unchallenged will have generational consequences; Demands for prison or death sentences or vigilantism against humanists as such must be met not with appeasement nor by arresting the very bloggers under threat, but with condemnation as the gross violations of freedom of thought and expression that such demands represent. ... Once a country silences and intimidates its intellectuals and freethinkers, a vicious cycle of terror and extremism becomes inevitable. Just as we saw in the earlier mass-killings of the Bengali intellectuals in the 1971 Liberation war, again at the hands of religious extremists, it creates an intellectual vacuum, from which it could take many, many years to revert." 1

During 2015-DEC, the Freedom of Thought report of the International Humanist and Ethical Union gave Bangladesh a rating of 5: "Grave violations" of freedom of thought.

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About "religion:"

The Internet is full of discussions of "freedom of religion," "religious liberty," etc. This naturally leads to questions like:

  • Exactly what must a system of belief include in order to be considered a religion?

  • Should freedom of religion within a country be extended as a human right:
    • Beyond the official religion of a country, if one exists; and

    • Beyond organized minority religions, to include:

    • People with minority beliefs about deity, humanity, and the rest of the universe -- perhaps with unique beliefs?

The title to this essay lists six such groups. There are more, including Apatheism, Deism, Henotheism, Ignosticism, Monism, Monotheism, Kathenontheism, Omnism, Panentheism, Pantheism, Transtheism, and probably others that we have never stumbled across.

Some definitions of "religion" require the belief in one or more supreme beings. Speaking generally, this can take four different forms:

  • Monotheism: belief in a single, indivisible, all powerful creator God or Goddess. Jews, Christians and Muslims consider their religion to be monotheistic. Together, their followers include slightly more than half of all people on Earth.

  • Trinitarianism: Virtually all Christian faith groups and denominations believe in a single Godhead composed of three persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Christians regard their religion as a form of monotheism because they believe in a single Godhead. Most Muslims and some others regard Christianity as a form of Polytheism -- believing in three different Gods.

  • Bitheism, Ditheism, or Duotheism: 2 Belief in a pair of deities, This has included the belief in:
    • One God and one Goddess -- as in Wicca and many other Neo-Pagan religions.

    • One wholly good and one profoundly evil deity -- as in Zoroastrianism.

  • Pantheons of Gods and Goddesses, as in Hinduism.

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A definition of religion used on this web site:

We use a very broad definition of "religion."

"Religion is any specific system of belief about deity, often involving rituals, a code of ethics, a philosophy of life, and a world view."

By way of explanation:

  • "Specific system" includes mutually agreed upon beliefs held in common by members of a particular group. Some groups have as few as two rules concerning belief and practice; others document thousands. One very common belief promoted by virtually all religions is in the Golden Rule: for a person to treat others as they would wish other people would treat them in return. These are formally called "Ethics of Reciprocity."

  • "Belief about deity" can involve a belief in the existence of a personal god or goddess, or in a pantheon of gods or goddesses, or in an impersonal creative force, etc. For others, their beliefs can take many shades of meaning: or a firm belief that no supreme being exists, a lack of belief of any deity at all, or honest doubt and indecision about the existence of a deity.

  • "Philosophy of life" involves attempts to answer existential questions like: Why am I here?, What is my purpose? What is life all about?, What is the meaning of it all?

  • "World view" is a set of basic, foundational beliefs concerning deity, humanity and the rest of the universe.

Thus we would consider the tens of thousands of faith groups within Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Native American Spirituality, Wicca and other Neo pagan traditions etc. to be religions. 

Added to these religious faiths, we also include Agnosticism, Atheism, Secular Humanism, Ethical Culture etc. as religions because they meet the above definition. They include a type of "belief about deity." They typically have a philosophy of life and world view. However their beliefs on these topics often differ from person to person within their group. Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists, etc. often respond with these words when asked what their religion is; others say that they have no religion or that they have no formal religious affiliation.

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Why do some people refuse to embrace freedom of religion for other people -- particularly "unbelievers."?

Three main reasons come to mind:

  1. Each of the dozen largest religions in the worlds contains many different denominations, faith groups, sects and traditions. Their teachings differ from each other. There are estimates of more than 30,000 different groups within Christianity alone. However, the vast majority of individual believers feel that their particular denomination, faith group, sect, or tradition within their particular religion has the fullness of truth. They view all other groups as being in error and teaching at least some falsehoods. A belief in Hell raises the stakes immensely, because just about everyone believes that their faith group teaches the path towards Heaven. Many believers are seriously troubled, believing that followers of all of the other groups are headed towards Hell. Many believers are anxious to have religious freedom for themselves, but are not nearly as keen to extend this right to others. Often this is motivated by a desire to minimize the population of Hell.

  2. Many believers in a deity or deities note that virtually all Agnostics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, etc. lack a specific belief in God, Heaven, and Hell. They further believe that these non-theists will often act immorally, unethically, and perhaps even criminally. Public opinion polls regularly show that Atheists are the most hated and mistrusted segment of the population. One indication contradicting this beliefs are other surveys made of the percentage of the inmates in federal prisons who are Atheists. Such inmates are extremely rare in prisons compared to their incidence in the general population.

  3. Many Christians are aware that the percentage of adults who identify as Christian is dropping. In the U.S., the decline is about 1 percentage point a year. Meanwhile, the "nones" the adults who are not affiliated with any organized religion are increasing in number at almost the same rate. Believers may regard unbelievers as a threat.

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Worldwide freedom of thought:

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) publishes a "Freedom of Thought Report" on an annual basis. It examines:

"... every country in the world for discrimination against humanists, atheists, and the non-religious.

Associated with the annual report is the following interactive graphic that summarizes the status of each country:

  • Left click and hold to move the map.

  • Left click and release on a colored circle, square or star to learn the name of the country and its freedom of thought status:

  • Left click on a blank part of the map to return to the map.


Freedom of Thought Report 2015 3


The 2015 report, issued during December of that year, describes a grim picture for Agnostics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, and non-religious persons. They list only five "free and equal" countries. All are geographically tiny:

  • Europe: Belgium, Estonia, and the Netherlands.
  • Pacific Ocean: Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Taiwan. 2

Among the countries where the majority of visitors to this web site live the IHEU has rated:

  • The United States as "mostly satisfactory."
  • Canada as having systemic discrimination because of its blasphemy restrictions and restrictions on thought crimes.
  • the UK exhibit "systemic discrimination."
  • India exhibits "severe discrimination," because of prison sentences for persons found guilty of blasphemy or thought crimes.

Virtually all of the predominately Muslim countries exhibit "grave violations." 2

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Rafida Bonya Ahmed, "Freedom of Thought Report 2015," Page 7, International Humanist and Ethical Union, 2015-DEC, at:
  2. A Goggle search shows that the three terms are essentially synonyms. It found about 23,200 references to ditheism, 12,500 to duotheism, and 11,800 to bitheism on the Internet.
  3. Op Cit, International Humanist and Ethical Union, at:

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Home > Religious Freedom > here

or Home > Important essays > Religious Freedom > here

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Copyright © 2016 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2016-DEC-04
Latest updated 2018-AUG-23
Author: B. A. Robinson
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