In Defense of Believers and Non-Believers

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) held its conference in Geneva, Switzerland, on the plight of atheists (those who believe in no god and no religion) around the world. The report the IHEU released noted that atheists are repressed in most countries around the world. The report stated that atheists, especially in certain Muslim countries and in countries where there is no separation of church and state, have suffered from blatant discrimination. Atheists have been denied their freedom of expression, the right to marry whomever they choose, the right to higher education (or education at all), and the right to leave the faith of their parents. Those Muslim countries cited as being the worst violators of atheists’ rights are Pakistan, Iran, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Mauritania, and the Sudan. In these named Muslim states, atheists are subject to even the death penalty, especially where “blasphemy laws” are concerned.

The IHEU did not spare any criticism of western countries where there is no separation of church and state. They have been critical of countries like the Republic of Ireland and Russia for also trying to persecute atheists. In addition, the IHEU mentioned that some states in the United States were just as guilty of discrimination against atheists. In seven states, atheists are barred from running for public office. In the State of Arkansas, atheists are barred from giving testimony as witnesses in a court of law. While I find this appalling, I should say that in all due fairness the United States is a far, far better place to be for atheists than many countries in the world because the First Amendment protects the rights of atheists as well as all believers by not taking a side one way or the other. Because religion is a very powerful influence in the United States, there is social and to an extent political discrimination against atheists here. America is far from perfect. However, for the most part, atheists do not face legal discrimination in the United States. Interestingly enough, the IHEU report did not mention what happens to atheists in Communist states like China, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea or Cuba. I can guarantee to you that atheists have been and continue to be locked up in those countries—especially if they even remotely disagree with those governments.

This is something the IHEU is missing the point of. Yes, repression of atheists is awful. But in my view repression of Christians is awful. Repression of Muslims and Jews is awful. Repression of any person for their religion or none at all is awful. Repression of religious, political, racial and ethnic groups is awful. There cannot be true protection for everyone under the law in any country if some minority, whoever they are, is not only left unprotected but is being legally as well as socially or politically discriminated against. As terrible as the cases of some atheists are, there are hundreds and even thousands of cases of Christians and other religious minorities in many countries who are being viciously attacked, murdered, have their homes and wealth taken from them, and are driven out of their country-of-origin. The greater lesson is that we have too many states that have no problem violating the individual rights of those who are of a different religion, a different political party, a different ethnic or racial group, or a different class or a different way of thinking. No one should emphasize the repression of one group and ignore all the others who suffer equally measure per measure.

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