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Feb 18 2014

The state of religious freedom worldwide

The International Humanist and Ethical Union has published its 2013 Freedom of Thought report that takes a country-by-country look at the “Rights, Legal Status, and Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists, and the Non-religious” and rates them according to five categories: 1. Free and Equal 2. Mostly Satisfactory 3. Systemic Discrimination 4. Severe Discrimination 5. Grave Violations.

The 244-page report looks at each country in light of 44 practices (that it calls ‘boundary conditions’), each one corresponding to one of those five classification conditions. They look at both de facto and de jure elements. The final rating of each country is determined by the worst match.

I have listed just those countries in the best and worst categories.

Best (Free and Equal): Sao Tome and Principe, Benin, Niger, Sierra Leone, Jamaica, Uruguay, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Kosovo, Belgium, Netherlands, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru.

Worst (Grave Violations): Comoros, Eritrea, Somalia, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Swaziland, Gambia, Mauritania, Nigeria, China, North Korea, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Maldives, Pakistan, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Yemen.

In 13 countries (the ones in bold) you can be put to death for apostasy or for conversion from the official religion

There are no real surprises in the list of worst countries but the list of best countries has some notable omissions, such as that apart from Belgium, the Netherlands, and Kosovo, there are no countries from North America or Europe, regions that boast of their religious tolerance. This is because, as Darren Smith points out, many Western European nations have state religions that are supported financially and otherwise by their governments, so that “While most of these Western European nations are not certainly considered to be repressive in reputation, many have structured laws that if strictly enforced can initiate a code of religion that can be sufficient to force a change to their societies.”

In many countries there is a gap between what they say and what they do. For example, in my birth country of Sri Lanka, while the “constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly and association… the government often interferes with media independence, and the Buddhist population has often shown hostility, occasionally violence, towards non-Buddhists.” It ends up classified under the heading “Serious Discrimination” because it practices “systemic and severe prejudice”, an accurate description in my opinion.

10 comments

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  1. 1
    Chiroptera

    What? Iraq and Afghanistan are on the “worst” list? That can’t be right. The USofA sent the military in those countries! They must be bastions of freedom!

  2. 2
    Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

    Kosovo is in Europe.

  3. 3
    thewhollynone

    The USA is listed as “mostly satisfactory” even though certain practices and events are reported. As far as I see it, that’s a whitewash. We should be at least a three.

  4. 4
    left0ver1under

    There are no real surprises in the list of worst countries but the list of best countries has some notable omissions, such as that apart from Belgium and the Netherlands, there are no countries from North America or Europe, regions that boast of their religious tolerance. This is because, as Darren Smith points out, many Western European nations have state religions that are supported financially and otherwise by their governments

    On South Korea, I have to disagree having lived there for four years (2001-2005). There have been many instances of buddhists, animists and others being targeted by christians (e.g. vandalism of buildings, imposition of religion in schools and businesses). Below is one of many items you can find, I’d post several but I don’t want to end up in moderation:

    http://callingchristians.com/2012/11/07/korean-christians-attack-buddhists-and-buddhist-temples/

    The worst countries all have the same thing in common: They have a dominant ideology or theology trying to eliminate competing religions and views. As always, the most anti-religious people are religious people.

    And as for the “best”, many of them did practice religious persecution at one time, when a single religion dominated the country. They stopped not because the religion became tolerant, but because the religion lost the power and numbers to get away with violence. Just look at the US and fundamentalist christianity, its attempts to grow its numbers back to where they could legalize hate.

  5. 5
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    I would’ve thought Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain would all have been in the best column.

    Denmark, Finland and Sweden among others I’d also have expected to rate highly in this.

    I’m surprised about the Sri Lankan Buddhists being prejudiced here and in Mano’s description that certainly doesn’t fit my impression and knowledge of them.

    I think it’s also worth noting that the only nations in bold where death penalty is given for apostasy, heresy and blasphemy are Islamic ones. No other religion seems so keen on giving the ultimate penalty for simply disagreeing with the national religion.

  6. 6
    Mano Singham

    @2 hercules,

    Thanks. I have corrected it.

  7. 7
    Mary Jo

    @5 Have you not heard of the Church of England, with Queen Elizabeth as the “Supreme Governor?” Australia is still part of the Commonwealth, I do not know if New Zealand is or ever was.

  8. 8
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @ ^ Mary Jo : Okay there is that but it’s hardly anything serious – just a symbolic tip of the crown that doesn’t actually mean anything or have any effect in real life I think.

    Oh & yes, Aotearoa -New Zealand was and remains a member of the British Commonwealth just like us Aussies although apparently there’s been recent talk about them changing their flag (to the silver fern apparently) to avoid confusion with ours.

  9. 9
    Mary Jo

    @Hi Steve, well you live there so cannot argue with your point! Maybe it is because, as in Darin Smith’s quote, “many Western European nations have state religions that are supported financially and otherwise by their governments, so that “While most of these Western European nations are not certainly considered to be repressive in reputation, many have structured laws that if strictly enforced can initiate a code of religion that can be sufficient to force a change to their societies.” I think the monarch or heir to the throne cannot marry a Catholic and Charles and Camilla could not get married in church because she was divorced.

  10. 10
    John Phillips, FCD

    SteveOr. actually it goes beyond just the queen being the head of the CoE, we also have some twenty six* unelected CoE Bishops with real power in the House Of Lords. Religious organisations, including in education, get many advantages, including financial and state funding ones, denied similar secular organisations. It might pay you to read the report, which is accurate when it comes to the UK, before wasting your time commenting from a position of easily rectified ignorance in future.

    * the number doesn’t count any retired bishops who may have been made life peers.

  1. 11
    Engaging #Atheism » E#A Midweek Roundup (Double or Nothing Edition…)

    […] The State of Religious Freedom Worldwide […]

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