A prominent Catholic bishop issues a call for all Catholics to defend atheists from persecution.
Bishop Declan Lang, the chair of the UK-based Catholic Bishops’ Conference Department of International Affairs, is asking fellow Catholics and others to defend atheists facing persecution around the world.
Citing examples across the globe where people of one faith have stood up for believers in another — including Christians for Yazidis in Iraq and Muslims in Southeast Asia, Bishop Lang notes:
However our compassion must never be limited only to people of faith. History has shown time and time again that when one minority group is oppressed with impunity, others soon face the same fate.
The following is an excerpt from Bishop Lang’s statement in support of atheists, originally published in a Friday (March 4) article for The Catholic Universe, a British weekly:
The persecution of atheists is a grave violation of human dignity throughout the world. In Saudi Arabia, where “calling for atheist thought in any form” is defined as an act of terrorism, writers have been flogged after publicly promoting humanist or secularist ideas. Most recently the Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh was sentenced to eight years in prison and eight hundred lashes, for publishing work considered to be atheistic.
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 Fayadh, Alexander, Alber and Karim, 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.
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.
Bishop Lang is correct to point out the deplorable plight of many atheists around the world. Indeed, we must remember that for many, being openly atheist is a dangerous proposition that can lead to profound and life changing consequences such as social ostracization, discrimination, prison, torture and even death.
While the Catholic church continues to be a profoundly immoral institution responsible for a multitude of horrors great and small, it is important nevertheless to give credit where credit is due, and Bishop Lang deserves credit for calling on all Catholics to defend atheists from persecution.
Bottom line: By declaring solidarity with atheists, Bishop Lang is standing up for freedom and justice, as such, he deserves credit and appreciation for his principled stance in support of freedom of conscience.