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Religious Tolerance logo

Freedom of religions 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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Part 2 of two parts

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This topic is continued here from Part 1

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Worldwide freedom of thought:

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) publishes an annual "Freedom of Thought Report." 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:

  • To move from country to country on the map, click and hold the left mouse button down and move the mouse.

  • Learn the name of the country and its freedom of thought status, left click and release on a colored circle, square, or star.

  • Return to the map by left clicking on a blank part of the map .

  • Zoom in and out, by using the "+" and "-" symbols in the lower left corner.



Freedom of Thought Report 2015 1

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The 2015 report, issued during December of that year, describes a grim picture for Agnostics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, and other religious rationalists in many countries of the world. 1 They list only seven countries with the highest rating: "#1: free and equal." All are geographically tiny:

  • Three countries in Europe: Belgium, Estonia, and the Netherlands.

  • Four islands in the Pacific Ocean: Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, and Taiwan. 1

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

  • The United States as 2 -- being "mostly satisfactory." Some negative observations include:
    • Official symbolic deference to religion.
    • Occasional discrimination, marginalization or prejudice against non-believers.
    • Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas have laws on the books prohibiting non-theists from holding public office. Some also prohibit them from testifying in court. These laws have been declared unconstitutional, but there has never been the political will to repeal them.

  • Canada as 3 -- having "systemic discrimination." Negative observations are:
    • The Constitution refers to the country having been "founded on principles that recognize the supremacy of God."
    • In Quebec:
      • A large crucifix is displayed in the National Assembly.
      • Religious buildings are taxed at a much lower rate than other buildings.
      • A public and high school course in world religions does not include content on Atheism.
      • Wedding officiants who are secular Humanists are not allowed to perform marriages.
    • Non-profits that promote conventional religions can register with the federal government as charities. However, non-profits that advance Humanism or Atheism are not allowed to register under the same category. 2
    • Six of ten provinces fully or partially fund religious schools, some of which discriminate against employees or students on religious grounds.
    • Some Catholic schools have been trying to ban Gay Straight Alliance student groups.
    • A federal Blasphemous Libel Law could lead to a prison sentence of up to two years for speech or writing which is critical of organized religions. However, nobody has been charged under the law since the 1930's.
    • Federal laws prohibit individuals from inciting hatred against others. However, if the hatred is founded on "... an opinion on a religious subject or an opinion based on a belief in a religious text," then hatred is allowed.

  • The United Kingdom (UK) is also a 3 -- exhibiting "systemic discrimination." Some of the more serious concerns are:
    • The Church of England is recognized as the state region.
    • Preferential treatment is given to specific religions or religion in general.
    • Prejudice exists in favor of religion in state funding and tax exemptions.
    • State funding of religious schools which can discriminate in hiring employees and admitting students.
    • Mandatory religious instruction exists in some public schools.
    • Some public or social services are controlled by religious groups.
    • Marriages by Humanist officiants are recognized in Scotland but not in other parts of the UK.

  • India is currently rated a 4 -- exhibiting "severe discrimination." Its status is in decline. Some of the concerns are:
    • Violence between religious groups. There were 330 attacks on religious minorities during the first half of 2015. The number of attacks are increasing.
    • Organized communal attacks against religious minorities.
    • Persons found guilty of blasphemy or thought crimes can be imprisoned.
    • Between 2013 and 2015, three prominent rationalists have been assassinated.
    • Blasphemy laws provide for jail sentences of up to three years and fines for whomever "... with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of a class."

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Virtually all of the predominately Muslim countries are rated 5: exhibiting "grave violations." 3 Many apply the death penalty to persons who leave the Muslim faith or who reveal that they are atheists.

We will update this information when the IHEU's 2016 report is issued -- perhaps during 2016-DEC.

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Reference used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Freedom of Thought Report 2015," International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), at: It can be downloaded at no cost as a PDF file.
  2. The group that sponsors this web site, Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance ran into this problem during the late 1990's when we tried to register as a non-profit religious charity with the federal government. We were unable to because the law requires religious non-profits to teach the existence of a deity before they can register. Belief in any deity or group of deities will do. Since our scope includes tolerance of conventional religions and rationalism, we were unable to do this.

    Our original name was Ontario Centre for Religious Tolerance. However, after registering this name as a for-profit company with the Government of Ontario, we were told that we could not use "Centre" in our name because the word can only be used by registered charities. So we changed "center" in our name to "consultants," which is a far less satisfactory word.
  3. Op Cit, IHEU, Page 201.

Site navigation:

Home > Religious Freedom > here

or Home > Important essays > Religious Freedom > here

or Home > Religious information > Religious Freedom > here

or Home > Human rights > Religious Freedom > here

Copyright © 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2016-DEC-04
Latest updated 2016-DEC-05
Author: Bruce A Robinson
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