New Report Details the Worst Countries in the World in Which to be an Atheist

A year after it released its first report on anti-atheist discrimination around the world, the International Humanist and Ethical Union has publishedFreedom of Thought 2013: A Global Report on the Rights, Legal Status, and Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists and the Non-religious”:

Freedom of Thought 2013 is the first report to look at the rights and treatment of the non-religious in every country in the world. Specifically, it looks at how non-religious individuals — whether they call themselves atheists, or agnostics, or humanists, or freethinkers or are otherwise just simply not religious — are treated because of their lack of religion or absence of belief in a god. We focus on discrimination by state authorities; that is systemic, legal or official forms of discrimination and restrictions on freedom of thought, belief and expression.

Our results show that the overwhelming majority of countries fail to respect the rights of atheists and freethinkers. There are laws that deny atheists’ right to exist, 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. In the worst cases, the state denies the rights of atheists to exist, or seeks total control over their beliefs and actions.

19 countries punish atheists for the crime of leaving your faith. In 12 of them, you can be executed for apostasy.

55 countries punish you for blasphemy. 39 of those can send you to prison for it, while 6 can punish you by death.

The worst countries in the world for those who support religious freedom (and civil rights in general)? There are a lot of candidates from Africa and the Middle East:

Comoros, Eritrea, Somalia, Egypt, Libya, Morocco (including Western Sahara), Sudan, Swaziland, Gambia, Mauritania, Nigeria, China (including Tibet, Macau and Hong Kong), North Korea (or DPRK), Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Maldives, Pakistan, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

The report’s release coincides with the United Nations’ celebration of Human Rights Day.

Robert Evans of Reuters has more on the report here.

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.

  • Dylan Kynaston

    I would like to point out for the sake of the article’s title taht the PRC and DPRK punish religious folk, not atheists.

    • Quintin van Zuijlen

      Well, the DPRK does that too rather, but that should be pointed out.

    • http://artiofab.kinja.com/ artiofab

      The next time youre in the dprk, tell someone you dont believe the gods chose the government. Let us know the results of this experiment.

      • Dylan Kynaston

        The government thinks not so much that they were chosen by gods, but rather that they are gods.

    • naath

      The report does note that.

  • $925105

    That’s nothing, Christians face persecution in America. Just the other day someone said, “Happy Holidays” to a Christian. Persecution!

    • Daniel

      The martyrs…

      Still, I can empathise. If I were a Christian, I would be utterly disgusted by the fact that many Christians in the west remain quite ignorant over the genuine persecution of Christians (i.e. the Copts in Egypt). As an atheist, I am vehemently disgusted by the persecution of anyone based on their religious affiliation, especially when the majority religion decrees itself to be the only legitimate one (hence the reason why I’ve generally supported Christians in the Middle East).

      Unlike theists, the persecution of Christians on a humanitarian level, rather than a religious/theological one. Likewise I am equally against the persecution of Muslims at the hands of Buddhists in Burma.

      All of this persecution shows just how illegitimate religion truly is. While I have always championed people’s right to follow whichever religion they want, but it is irrefutable that we could surely do without religion.

      • Rob Willox

        I wholeheartedly agree as an atheist that others should have the right, however misguided, irrational or delusional it may appear to us, to follow their strongly held beliefs without persecution.

        Where I and they differ is that they can’t, for some reason, allow me to do the same and when questioned or criticised take great exception and attempt to villify us as ‘dangerous’ or ‘militant’ atheists resulting in the abuses reported.

        Until then I will adopt a militant stance with the simple philosophy of “When they do, I will”?

      • RedneckCryonicist

        If I were a Christian, I would be utterly disgusted by the fact that many Christians in the west remain quite ignorant over the genuine persecution of Christians (i.e. the Copts in Egypt).

        I work with an American woman who converted to Orthodox Christianity. Her church considers Copts and other Eastern Christians part of their community of faith, and she says that America Orthodox believers talk about the Copts’ persecution all the time, even though she has no ethnic connection to Christians in that part of the world.

        But that persecution doesn’t register in the U.S., probably because America’s foreign policy in the Near East seems organized Israel’s convenience.

      • cecilia

        the rest of the world needs to start appreciating the concept:

        Separation of church and State

  • oz

    well, i am from czech republic and i find the subchapter on my homeland rather dubious. whilst it is indeed true our government financially supports more major religion groups, they all are minorities in cz. not mentioning that this support is according to the current legislation continuously diminishing and is scheduled to be ceased at all.
    only around 40 % of czech citizens have any kind of religious affiliation. while considerable part of those who does not are not atheists sensu stricto, nevertheless, being atheist in here does not lead you to be discriminated against at all. there is more likely you would be ridiculed if you confess your faith (whatever it is) in public. for christians are generally considered to be nothing more than funny simpletons. thanks god (irony intended) i live here and not in, say, united states.
    you may find it interesting – that is why i have written it here. sorry if the grammar does not meet your standards too – i am far from being a native speaker, heh.

    • Stev84

      Yeah, some of the classifications are just absurd. Americans think they are all great because they have separation of church and state on paper. But in reality, the country is a de facto theocracy in many aspects. Even compared to some countries that have state religions.

      There may not be laws against blasphemy. But publicly say something against religion in many communities and you will get harassed. Even to the point of violence and vandalism.

      • EuropeanCommunist

        Looking at their own explanation for what triggers what rating I am
        left to wonder how the US got away with Mostly Satisfactory instead of
        Systemic Discrimination. Especially since State-funding of religious schools is on the list for automatically triggering the latter.

    • naath

      I’m from the UK and I… yeah, I don’t think it accurately reflects the experience of living places.

      For instance – yes we *do* have an obligation to have “acts of worships” in schools. A law more honoured in the breech… (outside of actual church schools the daily “assembly” is more likely to include “take care crossing the road” than any prayer). And we *do* have compulsory RE – but that’s not RE as in “this is what you should believe” it’s much more history-of-religion, and I think it’s genuinely useful to know facts about religions whether you have faith or not, helps you avoid doing stupid things like offering your Jewish friends bacon cheeseburgers for lunch…

      And while the USA has on-paper very good laws about the non-establishment of religion in practice it seems (from reading news reports and blogs from the USA) that Christianity is a much much bigger part of “public life” than it is in the UK for all that we do have an established church.

      • Ewan

        Indeed; in the US they have a written prohibition against making laws that respect an establishment of religion. In the UK we just take the direct approach of not respecting our established religion.

  • Gunnar Tveiten

    This report is quite weak. Denmark is classified as “severe” while USA is classified as “mostly satisfactory” — as far as I can see, that’s because they’ve looked at law without looking at what reality is actually like on the ground.

    USA is substantially more religiously-dominated and more hostile towards atheists than any of the scandinavian countries. The fact that Denmark, in principle, has a blasphemy-law isn’t terribly relevant, so did Norway up until recently – but how relevant is that really when it’s been decades since ANYONE was actually convicted of violating it ? Old sleeping laws exist in many countries and aren’t terribly good indicators of actual discrimination.

    (sure, they should go, that’s not my point, my point is just that they’re hardly the huge deal this report make them out to be)

    • Guest

      Maybe it has been decades because the threat of punishment is effective.

      • Gunnar Tveiten

        In principle that could be the case. In practice, you don’t need to know a lot about Scandinavia to see that ridiculing religious belief is both common and something the law accepts here.

        In the case of Denmark, you may have heard of some cartoons featuring a certain middle-eastern “prophet” some years ago.

        Publishing critique or ridicule of religious belief is, in practice, no more risky in Denmark than in any country lacking blasphemy-laws. To the degree it’s risky at all, it is so because of religious fundamentalists that sometimes attack people who say things the disapprove of — not because the state will come after you with the law.

    • RedneckCryonicist

      Stop whining about America’s horrible theocracy. Does the U.S. have “laws that deny atheists’ right to exist, 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”?

      Of course not. Even our dumbest conservative politicians offer to cut atheists’ taxes, deregulate our businesses and let us own firearms and ammo.

      • Gunnar Tveiten

        I didn’t claim any of those things. I claimed that the reports assertion that being an atheist in America is substantially easier than being one in Scandinavia is highly suspect.

      • Lee Picton

        I live in Maryland, one of several states that still have laws against atheists serving on juries. So don’t lie about there not being laws against atheists in this country. Prejudice against us runs strong enough to prevent us from running for public office. I am out and loud and encourage those in the closet to come out. Results are encouraging. At least 20% of this country now admits at the least to be non religious. And we vote.

        • RN from NY

          A get out of jury duty-free card isn’t such a bad thing. Although I wonder if you could sue if convicted, since as an atheist you wouldn’t have a jury of your peers?
          What are the other states?

  • Msironen

    That map is bullshit on its face, just need to look at Scandinavia.

  • Lurker111

    I thought (mainland) China was officially atheist. ???

    • Keyra

      Used to be

  • Dave

    Not sure how officially atheist China and North Korea persecute atheists…

    The again atheists tend to be more rationalist and support the freedom of thought, the very things which hurt those puritanical regimes.

    • Spectrall

      I think, from what I’ve seen, that it’s the broad strokes of lack of freedom of speech and such that did them in.

    • Stev84

      North Korea isn’t really atheistic. They do have a state religion in the worship of the Kim family.

  • RedneckCryonicist

    Which goes to show why you shouldn’t give money to the legal parasites running the Freedom From Religion Foundation who think that the battle for atheists’ rights happens in local governments in parts of the U.S. most of us have never heard of. American atheists already live in a godless utopia compared with much of the world, so stop worrying about these petty things and keep your money out of the hands of atheist lawyers who engage in the atheist version of ambulance chasing.

    • Lee Picton

      see my comment elsewhere. You don’t know what you are talking about.

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    Scanning the report, it appears not so much the worst countries to be Atheist (though that is part of it), as mainly about the worst countries to be Humanist or be trying to express Humanist values; which makes sense, considering who’s putting out the report.

  • Lee Picton

    I, for one, (and getting more company every day), support the Freedom from Religion foundation. Not only are they not ambulance chasers, they can’t keep up with the demands for their services. But the money is now coming in from alarmed Americans, and their legal staff has increased fourfold. I am a lifetime member, and will be giving them as much money as I can afford in the future, and plan on changing my will to leave them a percentage of my final estate. Religious privilege has to be abolished.


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