Over 70% of people live in countries that ‘severely discriminate’ against the non-religious – report

8 December, 2022

Pictured: The Freedom of Thought Report 2022, Humanists International

Over 70% of the world’s population live in countries that severely discriminate against the non-religious. That is the headline finding from the 2022 Freedom of Thought Report, published today by Humanists International. The report also finds that the situation has been getting worse. Humanists UK has welcomed the report, and called on all governments to take action to protect the rights of non-religious people and to make sure that they are able to freely express their beliefs without fear of discrimination or persecution.

The new report covers every country in the world and includes information on laws and policies that affect the rights of non-religious people, as well as incidents of discrimination and persecution. The 2022 edition includes a number of alarming findings:

  • More than 80 countries have laws that criminalise apostasy or blasphemy, or atheism, with punishments ranging from fines and imprisonment to, in the case of 13, death.
  • Non-religious people continue to face discrimination, violence, and persecution in many parts of the world, both state-sponsored and extrajudicially, particularly in countries with high levels of religious conservatism or conflict.
  • In some countries, non-religious people are denied basic rights, such as the right to marry or the right to hold public office.
  • In the strictest sense, less than 4% of people live in states that are ‘truly’ secular. A secular state is a country in which there is separation of religious and political power, and a deliberate policy of neutrality and equality towards all beliefs, with an interest in maximising freedom of religion or belief for every citizen.
  • On the other hand, those countries that are not secular include theocracies like Iran and Saudi Arabia. There are also officially secular countries, like France, that have scored worse in the report in recent years due to heavy-handed attempts at enforcing religious neutrality that have in effect discriminated against religious minorities.

The foreword to the report is written by Rishvin Ismath, Founding President of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Sri Lanka. In it, he recounts:

‘When I was a kid, my freedom was either stolen or controlled by elders such as parents, teachers, relatives, even the neighbours… Once I opened my eyes wide and realised that I was fooled by imaginations, fictions, lies… utter lies, I left the religion, and yet I did not have the freedom to declare myself as an ex-Muslim, because I was conscious of the consequences. When I did eventually declare my true self – an ex-Muslim – …I lost the last iota of the freedom I had.’

Andrew Copson is the Chief Executive of Humanists UK, and also the elected President of Humanists International. Speaking in his capacity as President, Andrew commented:

‘This year’s Report provides evidence of clear and systematic discrimination against humanists and non-religious people, and this discrimination is most prevalent in countries with less state secularism. State secularism appears to be a prerequisite for the full enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief.’


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 020 3675 0959.

Read the latest Freedom of Thought Report.

Read more about our work on international campaigns.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.