Secretary of State John Kerry: Freedom to ‘Not Believe’ is a ‘Birthright of Every Human Being’

Earlier today, the U.S. State Department released the 2012 International Religious Freedom Report. The annual report sheds light on abuses of religious freedom worldwide and reinforces America’s commitment to make those freedoms “an integral part of our global diplomatic engagement.”

The report itself makes references to atheism (albeit in a very loose way):

Fifteen years ago, the U.S. Congress took a momentous step in support of religious freedom when it passed the International Religious Freedom Act, establishing within the Executive Branch the position of Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. With this measure, the U.S. government made a bold statement on behalf of those who were oppressed, those who were persecuted, and those who were unable to live their lives at the most basic level, for the simple exercise of their faith. Whether it be a single deity, or multiple deities, or no deities at all, freedom to believe — including the freedom not to believe — is a universal human right.

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke at an event marking the release of the report and his speech, too, celebrated the freedom to not believe in God:

But freedom of religion is not an American invention. It’s a universal value. And it’s enshrined in our Constitution and ingrained in every human heart. The freedom to profess and practice one’s faith, to believe or not to believe, or to change one’s beliefs, that is a birthright of every human being. And that’s what we believe. These rights are rightly recognized under international law. The promotion of international religious freedom is a priority for President Obama, and it is a priority for me as Secretary of State. I am making certain, and will continue to, that religious freedom remains an integral part of our global diplomatic engagement.

Kerry also spoke about the problem with blasphemy laws and countries where apostates live in fear for their lives:

Lastly, another troubling trend is the increasing use of laws governing blasphemy and apostasy. These laws are frequently used to repress dissent, to harass political opponents, and to settle personal vendettas. Laws such as these violate fundamental freedoms of expression and religion, and we believe they ought to be repealed. And because we defend others’ rights of expression, we are also ensuring that we can express our own views and practice our own faith without fearing for our own safety or our own lives.

You can be cynical and say this is just a report and it doesn’t change the practices that go on in other countries, but it’s important to note that our government recognizes these problems exist and it’s working to fix the problem. Kerry is saying that we support universal religious freedom, which includes the right to be an atheist, something many countries in the world are afraid of doing.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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