Submitted by Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
While 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]
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.
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.