Well, I’ll be damned.
Bishop Declan Lang, the chair of the UK-based Catholic Bishops’ Conference Department for International Affairs, has gone on record asking fellow Catholics to defend persecuted atheists. Seriously.
Referring to atheists like Ahmed Rajib Haider who have been jailed or murdered for their thought-crimes, Lang writes that Catholics have a duty to stand up for freedom of belief, even when they disagree:
Confronted with these injustices we must not stand by. Moreover we should recognise that the oppression of atheists does not only violate the human rights of people like [Palestinian poet Ashraf] Fayadh, [Indonesian atheist] Alexander [Aan], Alber [Saber] and Karim [Ashraf Mohamed al-Banna], but represents a degradation of the fundamental principle that people should be free to hold their own beliefs without fearing for their life or liberty. History has shown time and time again that when one minority group is oppressed with impunity, others soon face the same fate.
Encouragingly the UK government has made a commitment to “stand up for the freedom of people of all religions — and non-religious people — to practise their beliefs in peace and safety.” When Catholic MPs Margaret Ritchie and John McNally spoke in parliament following the killing of Faisal Abedin Deepan, Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire joined in condemnation and called on the government of Bangladesh to protect free expression.
The Catholic community in England and Wales has a role to play in ensuring that the government maintains this position and continues to speak out when people are imprisoned, tortured or killed on account of their atheism. Doing so will not only be a practical expression of solidarity with those suffering the most appalling persecution, but will also promote freedom of religion or belief as a universal right to the benefit of all.
It’s support church/state separation groups would undoubtedly welcome. No one deserves to be persecuted for their beliefs, especially when those beliefs hurt no one. We often hear conservative Christians say they’re being persecuted, but really, they’re whining because the law doesn’t treat their faith as better than everyone else’s.
In the case of these atheists, they’re being killed simply for holding an unpopular belief and talking about it publicly. If you can’t defend that right, whose side are you on?
Lang is doing the right thing here. The question now is what form that support will take if and when someone else is murdered for his non-belief.
(Image via Clifton Diocese)