Problems faced by humanists

Persecution of non-religious people

The number of people declaring themselves humanists has dramatically increased in recent decades but in many parts of the world they face stigma and even persecution for doing so.

Not all countries allow humanists to freely state their beliefs, or openly say they do not believe in a god. ¬†In their Freedom of Thought Report 2014, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) say there are 39 countries in the world where the crime of ‘blasphemy’ can be punished with a prison sentence. In 13 countries, openly declaring oneself a humanist or an atheist can carry with it a death penalty.

In effect, blasphemy can mean criticising, insulting, or simply disagreeing with what a particular religion says. Humanists are popular targets of blasphemy laws, but they’re not the only ones, which is why it’s so important that humanists are able to work closely with people who are religious to challenge these laws.

In Bangladesh for instance, there has been a wave of killings since 2013 targeting people who write about Humanism. Four different men were hacked to death in the streets, another was killed in his home, and other men and women were stabbed or hacked and barely survived to tell their story. Other countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and Russia can be particularly hard on people who are not religious, or who express dissenting views.

You can help non-religious people under threat by supporting the End Blasphemy Laws campaign or helping groups like the British Humanist Association raise awareness of these problems.

Even if they avoid criminal punishment, humanists can also face persecution from religious extremists who do not accept their right to speak freely about their beliefs. To make matters worse, because of the power that religious extremists have in some regions, the police and governments have been known to take very little action to protect those in danger.

In some countries where non-religious people have equal protection under the law, living openly as a humanist can still be difficult. For example, in the United States of America, people will respond to polls by saying they trust ‘atheists’ less than any other group in society. And sometimes even in a broadly liberal and tolerant country, one’s own family or community can have serious objections to someone being non-religious. ‘Ex-Muslims’ and ‘Ex-Mormons’ are two examples of groups of people who find it particularly hard to be open about their beliefs.