2017 Freedom of Thought Report Highlights World’s Worst Countries for Atheists December 5, 2017

2017 Freedom of Thought Report Highlights World’s Worst Countries for Atheists

There are seven countries that actively persecute atheists.

Can you name them?

For the sixth straight year, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has released its annual “Freedom of Thought Report,” describing serious cases of discrimination and persecution against atheists around the world. It’s a depressing, albeit important, roundup, but it shows that there are places in the world where publicly announcing your disbelief in God may well be a death sentence.


The seven nations are India, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan. In those countries, atheists were murdered, there were calls for violence against them, and “apostates” were sentenced to death.

Plenty of other countries are guilty of other forms of persecution, including “religious control over family law or legislation on moral matters” and punishing alleged blasphemers. It all leads non-religious people to make a difficult decision: Stay in the closet or put themselves at risk:

In most of the worst-performing countries in this report, the non-religious are caught in a dilemma. On the one hand, they can remain invisible, perhaps conforming to religious practices for the sake of an easy life, and be largely safe. Most of the time they are invisible.

Unlike most sizeable religious minorities there is not even a pretence that they are welcome to their idiosyncratic beliefs or permitted to build their churches. Rather, the nonreligious cannot freely associate or express themselves in daily life, and outside of online networks they cannot build the non-religious equivalents of religious associations in the ‘real world’, as humanists do in ‘Western’ countries, for example.

On the other hand, if they so much as state their nonreligiousness, let alone offer any rationale for it, or advocate for explicitly humanist ideas or values beyond that, then they are immediately shouted down for trying to “proselytize”, or as a cause of “hurt sentiments” or “offence”. It is very often an all-or-nothing scenario: silence, or be immediately regarded as a pariah and a provocateur.

The report also includes specific concerns for every country. The United States doesn’t get perfect marks at all. While our law protects freedom of conscience and religious liberty, there is social stigma against atheists as well as “official symbolic deference to religion.” There’s also a lengthy section featuring ways Donald Trump is trying to codify religious bigotry in the law with the help of Republicans who are all for religious freedom unless they can get away with pushing their faith on everyone else.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is hearing a case today about a Christian baker who didn’t want to bake a cake for paying customers.

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