International Humanist Ethical Union publish first ever worldwide report on the rights of the non-religious

10 December, 2013

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), the global umbrella group for Humanist, atheist and secularist organisations worldwide, have marked UN Human Rights Day with the launch of the first ever report which covers the rights and treatment of the non-religious in every country in the world. The report found 55 countries with blasphemy laws on the books, or other laws forbidding criticism or ‘insult’ to religion. In 39 such countries the law mandates a prison sentence for blasphemers. Six western countries are rated ‘Severe’ because they can jail people for breaking laws prohibiting ‘blasphemy’ and other free speech on religion. The report’s inaugural edition, published last year, was the first to systematically highlight limitations on the rights of the non-religious in 60 countries. The new edition is unprecedented in covering infringements of the rights of the non-religious in every country in the world. The British Humanist Association (BHA), which is a member organisation of IHEU, welcomes the report’s publication.

The report shows a scale of five classification ranges upward in severity from ‘Free and Equal’, through to ‘Mostly Satisfactory’, ‘Systemic Discrimination’, ‘Severe Discrimination’, and ‘Grave Violations’. The issues covered range from systematic religious privileges, established state religions and mandatory religious instruction in schools through to extreme examples of persecution, such as enforcing the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy (which are defined as ‘Grave Violations’).

The report rates the UK under the category ‘Systemic Discrimination’, because of factors such as the Church of England’s established status, the automatic right of Anglican bishops to sit in the House of Lords, faith schools’ religious discrimination in their admissions and employment policies, and the legal requirement for every state-funded school (even those which do not have a religious character) to hold a daily act of collective worship.

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the BHA and First Vice President of IHEU, commented ‘We stand for freedom of belief for all people but today we are highlighting in particular human rights violations against those with humanist and other non-religious convictions. Such people are often in even greater difficulty in nations that disrespect freedom of conscience than those of minority religions as they are by definition less organised, and less able to draw on community and international support. The new edition of the Freedom of Thought report gives an even more comprehensive picture of the worldwide legal discrimination against atheists, humanists and the non-religious and we will be pressing the UK government to be sure that they include the non-religious in their own priority work on freedom of religion and belief.’


For further comment or information contact BHA Head of Public Affairs on 0773 8435059 or at

The Freedom of Thought Report website:

The International Humanist and Ethical Union:

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is the world umbrella group bringing together more than 100 Humanist, atheist, rationalist, secularist, and freethought organizations from 40 countries.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.