Photo Credit: Wikimedia
For the past six years, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) had been releasing its annual “Freedom of Thought Report” evaluating discrimination and persecution against atheists around the world. And again this year they looked at how the countries scored in four categories:
- Constitution and Government: A bad score would represent “complete tyranny” against freedom of thought, legislation influenced by religion and non-religious people barred from holding elected office.
- Education and Children’s Rights: A bad score would mean religious indoctrination in schools, and religious instruction only coming in “coercive fundamentalist” form.
- Family, Community, Society: A bad score means being openly non-religious is “severely persecuted” or met with violence, such violence is essentially permitted by the ruling class, government authorities openly harass or marginalize the non-religious and non-religious organizations are barred from forming.
- Freedom of Expression: A bad score represents repression of core Humanist principles, apostasy and blasphemy being punishable by death and an inability to be an out atheist.
According to the report, Saudi Arabia is rated as the worst country for atheists.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an Islamic state governed by an absolute monarchy in tandem with a powerful religious elite. Since 2014 Saudi law defines “the promotion of atheism” as an act of “terrorism.” Accusations of apostasy or promoting atheism have been made in recent years, with individuals facing possible death sentences and serving long jail terms.
The Saudi government has claimed to be making improvements in terms of respecting civil liberties and human rights; however most improvements have been minimal and a highly restrictive regime persists. In 2017 the Crown Prince pledged reforms which include lifting the ban on women driving, however many human rights campaigners and prisoners of conscience remain behind bars. Most forms of public religious expression must be consistent with the government’s particular brand of Sunni Islam.
When it comes to freedom of expression and advocacy of human values, Saudi Arabia rates dead last as the worst country for atheists. Expression of core Humanist principles on democracy, freedom and human rights is brutally repressed; ‘Apostasy’ or conversion from a specific religion is outlawed and punishable by death; ‘Blasphemy’ or criticism of religion is outlawed and punishable by death; It is illegal to advocate secularism or church-state separation, or such advocacy is suppressed; It is illegal or unrecognized to identify as an atheist or as non-religious.
Belgium, Netherlands and Taiwan take the first 3 places on the list of 196 countries. The United States ranks 8th on that list and that are good results. There are no fundamental restrictions on freedom of expression or advocacy of humanist values and there’s very little legal opposition to existence of atheists. Also, when it exists, it’s not enforceable.