Freedom from religion: Vatican legally and morally wrong

March 29, 2018

In response IHEU’s Director of Advocacy, Elizabeth O’Casey, corrected the Holy See listing the established rights which constitute freedom from religion, and highlighted why freedom from religion is so necessary for those professing no religious beliefs around the world: “freedom from coercion to adopt a religion is protected by law; freedom to have no religion is protected by law; freedom to leave a religion is protected by law; and freedom to criticise a religion is protected by law.”

She also noted that in his own comments to the Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion of Belief, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, also corrected the Holy See. Shaheed stated categorically that freedom from religion is protected by the right to freedom of religion or belief. Dr Shaheed mentioned specifically how humanist, atheist and secular bloggers are under attack, and that the right to freedom of religion or belief protects the individual, not the religion or belief itself.

In her statement, O’Casey went on to highlight just why statements such as those made by the Holy See are so objectionable and dangerous; especially in the context of state-based hate and a culture of impunity allowing for violence against those who have no religious beliefs. O’casey reminded the Council that 85 countries severely discriminate against non-religious individuals whilst seven countries were found to actively persecute the non-religious during last year. She also reminded the Council of the situation of those jailed in states such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran for being atheist or humanist, and the brutal murder of so many secularists and rationalists with impunity in Bangladesh, India and the Maldives. O’Casey also mentioned Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Malaysia and Cyprus in their promoting state hatred against atheists and humanists.

In the light of this situation, O’Casey asked how many more humanists, atheists and secularists need to be killed, imprisoned, persecuted and disproportionately targeted for the international community to begin to understand the absolute importance of freedom of religion or belief for those with no religion? She concluded, “so long as the rest of the international community stay silent, the rights of the invisible minority of non-believers across the world will continue to be trampled upon, including by members of this Council.” The full text of O’Casey’s statement can be seen through the link below.

In this context it was interesting to see that in the UK a Burnley vicar, who has campaigned to expose sexual abuse and its cover-up in the Church of England, has been named Secularist of the Year! The Rev Graham Sawyer, who is the vicar of St James’ Church, was one of two joint winners presented with a £5,000 prize at a lunch hosted by the National Secular Society. Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who won the award in 2012, presented the prize at the event in central London.

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