Atheists are often seen as crying wolf when they speak about bigotry. But discrimination against atheists around the world is real.
“Oh, you atheists are always whining about how put-upon you are. You don’t experience real discrimination: not like African Americans, or gays, or women, or immigrants. So knock it off with the pity party.”
You may have heard this refrain. You may have even sung it yourself. So let’s look at this question for a moment: Are atheists subjected to real discrimination?
It’s certainly true that, in the United States, while atheists do experience real discrimination, it’s typically not as severe as, say, racism or misogyny. Or rather, since I don’t think comparing discriminations is usually all that useful: Anti-atheist discrimination takes different forms. It’s not like the systematic economic apartheid African Americans experience, or the systematic enforcement of rigid gender roles women experience. It takes other forms: such as social ostracism; bullying in schools; public schools denying atheist students the right to form clubs; religious proselytizing promoted by the government; widespread perceptions of atheists as untrustworthy; businesses denying equal access to atheists and atheist organizations; government promotion of religion in social service programs; government promotion of religion in the military. And it’s true that atheists have significant legal protection in the United States: people sometimes break those laws, and those laws aren’t always enforced, but we do have these laws, and they do help.
But the United States isn’t the whole world.
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), a world umbrella group bringing together more than a hundred humanist, atheist, rationalist, secularist, and freethought organizations from 40 countries, has just produced the first ever report focusing on how countries around the world discriminate against non-religious people. Published on December 10 to mark Human Rights Day, the Freedom of Thought 2012: A Global Report on Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists and the Non-religious:
…covers laws affecting freedom of conscience in 60 countries and lists numerous individual cases where atheists have been prosecuted for their beliefs in 2012. It reports on laws that deny atheists’ right to exist, curtail their freedom of belief and expression, revoke their right to citizenship, restrict their right to marry, obstruct their access to public education, prohibit them from holding public office, prevent them from working for the state, criminalize their criticism of religion, and execute them for leaving the religion of their parents.
And the results are appalling.
There are two big take-home messages from this report. One: This is a world-wide issue. Examples of anti-atheist discrimination have been reported in 60 countries, from Algeria to Zambia; including the Bahamas, Brazil, Bahrain, and Belize; Italy, India, Israel, Iceland; the United Kingdom and the United States. It’s been reported in brutal theocracies notorious for their human rights violations, like Pakistan and Iran — and it’s been reported in supposed secular paradises, like Sweden and France. It’s worse in some countries than others, obviously… but this is a global problem.
Two: In some countries, this anti-atheist discrimination is severe. It doesn’t take the form of government proselytizing or being denied the right to organize clubs. It takes the form of being arrested. It takes the form of being imprisoned, for years. It takes the form of being targeted by a mob screaming for your blood… and when the police who should be there to protect you show up, instead they throw you in jail. Where another mob forms up, screaming for your blood.
Don’t believe me? Here are six outrageous examples of discrimination against non-believers.
Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 6 Outrageous Incidents of Discrimination Against Nonbelievers. To find out more about discrimination and human rights violations against atheists around the world — in countries from Indonesia to Poland, Italy to Egypt, Turkey to Tunisia, Zambia to Mauritania, India to Greece — read the rest of the piece. (And yay for me writing for AlterNet again! Feeling closer to being back in the saddle every day.)