International Humanist And Ethical Union Publishes Comprehensive Global Report On Athiest and Non-Religious Rights

Submitted by Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

Humanist EmblemWhile many, primarily Islamic, countries have received much press regarding flagrant abuses of religious and non-religious persons or views, seven of which have death penalty offenses for crimes such as apostasy, the true impact for most of the worlds citizens are not as stark but can be often a suffer a form of punishment, repression and imprisonment of some kind for their beliefs.

The international Humanist and Ethical Union published a broad and comprehensive study of world governments listing laws, social constraints, and customs of government for nearly each nation. The study provides a deep insight into how even subtle restrictions on atheists and subscribers to differing religions or non-religions can have a chilling effect on the expressions of their citizens and it is often this subtlety that can become a form of suppression of dissent in surprising areas.

The comprehensive report is available in .PDF format and may be downloaded for review HERE. [For disclosure purposes the webpage hosting the report contains a solicitation for a donation to the organization but a donation is not required to download and the study which does not appear to be offered as a revenue generation source]

Athiest Emblem
Athiest Emblem

The report lists each nation’s attributes as to its religious freedom and tolerance of non-believers or religious dissenters. In doing so it offers an insight into how the government and culture truly values religious freedom as evidenced by its laws and actions. Some nations that many in the West regard as enlightened and having strong values as to individual liberty also have skeletons in form of laws respecting a state sponsored religion or the constraint on religious or non-religious expression.

The report also makes distinction between de jure and de facto treatment of religious liberty. In many cases laws or constitutions foster these liberties but practices of the government or culture proves otherwise.

Some examples include:


The state financially supports and promotes Lutheranism as the country’s official religion. The country’s general penal code establishes fines and imprisonment of up to three months for those who publicly deride or belittle the religious doctrines or the worship of a lawful religious association active in the country. The general penal code also establishes penalties of fines and up to two years in prison for verbal or physical assault on an individual or group based on religion. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland (ELCI), which is the state church, enjoys some advantages not available to other religion and belief groups


The constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom or thought, conscience and religion, as well as freedom of expression, assembly and association. These rights are respected in practice. Freedom of expression is enshrined in the constitution, and the media are diverse and independent. There are also some constraints on freedom of expression and freedom of association specifically relating to Nazism. In addition, the criminal code addresses the insulting of faiths, religious societies, and ideological groups. Article 166 of the German Criminal Code states:

“Whoever publicly or through dissemination of writings insults the content of others’ religious faith or faith related to a philosophy of life in a manner that is capable of disturbing the public peace, shall be punished with imprisonment for not more than three years or a fine.” This has been used in practice to stifle satirical and critical expression.


Niger is listed in the report in the highest rated class of “Free and Equal” having governmental, constitutional and social protections. The attributes include freedom of religion or belief is upheld and there are no known cases of discrimination against non-religious individuals.


The Church of Sweden ceased to be the established state church in 2000, and Sweden is a highly secular country (a Eurobarometer Poll in 2010 found just 18% of Swedish citizens agreed to the proposition “there is a god”). However, the state collects a “church tax” from citizens who are listed as belonging to a religious group which is then distributed back to the religious bodies. Non-religious citizens do not have to pay the church tax, but non-religious Swedes have consistently been refused the right to designate their Humanist Association to take part in the same system.

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.


Freedom of Thought 2013
International Humanist and Ethical Union
Graphics: United States Department of Veteran’s Affairs Cemetery Emblems

By Darren Smith
The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

10 thoughts on “International Humanist And Ethical Union Publishes Comprehensive Global Report On Athiest and Non-Religious Rights”

  1. Darren,
    I knew about the blow to women’s rights in Iraq but the quote you offered here is one I’ll remember! Thanks!

  2. Darren,
    The religious tax in Sweden is an interesting concept. The government seems to be doing the fundraising for the Church. Too much of an entanglement between church and state for me.

  3. Let’s not forget the Quakers who where the Martyrs At Boston Common. Very interesting story.

    Has not religious been used to suppress rebellion since government was created? You don’t really think they were sacrificing people to appease the God’s do you? Cleaver tactic by the ruling elites though. Sometimes, I think all malum prohibitum laws are for this purpose. “I kill you, if you don’t give us our money.” – Achmed; the dead terrorist.

  4. I find a rabid response to anyone who does not follow the ideas of some of my fellow citizens. The idea that this country is a Christian nation, that prayer should be taught in school, etc is exclusionary in nature. It is their intent to elect certain religious people to the government and install these same kinds of people in the judicial which is the big red flag to me. I believe the ultimate aim of some of these politicians is to pigeonhole existing laws until they can gain enough clout to replace or install new ones in keeping with their ideology.

  5. The US destroyed Viet Nam and Iraq for no other reason than money and power. The three stooges should be arrested and placed in prison a la Bernie Madof. Kissinger should be in there also. What they did is reprehensible and belongs in the times of the early colonialism of the 17th Century.

  6. Saddly, Dredd is right! Not only did the US not make Iraq safe for democracy, it made it unsafe for religious freedom. Wake up, USA, and make the world safe from yourself!

  7. Speaking of abuse in Islamic countries, specifically abuse of educators and education:

    As a college professor, I have a special interest in what happened to Iraqi universities under US occupation. The story is not pretty.

    Until the 1990s, Iraq had perhaps the best university system in the Middle East. Saddam Hussein’s regime used oil revenues to underwrite free tuition for Iraqi university students — churning out doctors, scientists, and engineers who joined the country’s burgeoning middle class and anchored development. Although political dissent was strictly off-limits, Iraqi universities were professional, secular institutions that were open to the West, and spaces where male and female, Sunni and Shia mingled. Also the schools pushed hard to educate women [PDF], who constituted 30 percent of Iraqi university faculties by 1991. (This is, incidentally, better than Princeton was doing as late as 2009.) With a reputation for excellence, Iraqi universities attracted many students from surrounding countries — the same countries that are now sheltering the thousands of Iraqi professors who have fled US-occupied Iraq … In just 20 years, then, the Iraqi university system went from being among the best in the Middle East to one of the worst. This extraordinary act of institutional destruction was largely accomplished by American leaders who told us that the US invasion of Iraq would bring modernity, development, and women’s rights. Instead, as political scientist Mark Duffield has observed, it has partly de-modernized that country. In the words of John Tirman, America’s failure to acknowledge the suffering that occupation wreaked in Iraq “is a moral failing as well as a strategic blunder.” Iraq represents a blind spot in our national conversation, one that impedes the cultural growth that stems from a painful recognition of error; and it hobbles the rational evaluation of foreign intervention. Is it too late to look in the mirror?

    (Why The Right-wing Is Anti-Education, quoting Bulletin of Atomic Scientists). After Bush II did that Obama did it to Libya.

  8. You may note that while the atheists in our nation today demand freedom from religion which in many senses is fine until it begins to impose restraints on free exercise, it was the Baptists of early American life who stepped up and paid the price in fines and jail sentences to make free exercise and freedom from a reality.

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