12/12/2013 05:28 EST | Updated 02/11/2014 05:59 EST

17% of World's Nations Hate Non-Believers

Then International Humanist and Ethical Union has just released its Freedom of Thought Report for 2013. According to the Freedom of Thought Report for 2013 (FOT), approximately 8 per cent of sovereign countries around the world treat non-believers as free and equal, 17 per cent actively persecute non-believers and 13 of the latter execute non-believers.


Canada falls into the largest category (38 per cent) as a country that systemically discriminates against non-believers (FOT 105). Others in that league include countries in all continents from Sweden (surprisingly) to Burundi.

The survey, based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (FOT 14), focused on the laws and enforcement of laws in 194 sovereign countries around the world. Categories, established through a list of trigger boundaries for each, include: Free and Equal, Mostly Satisfactory, Systemic Discrimination, Severe Discrimination, and Grave Violations (FOT 22-27).

There are a few things to note about the survey.

First, it is looking only at the laws in place in each country with some allowances for territorial differences within countries-provincial or canton differences as well as areas controlled by rebel groups.

That explains the U.S.' better rating (Moderately Satisfactory) than Canada's (Systemic Discrimination) because the U.S. constitution specifically prohibits the interference of church in state. Interestingly, the report goes on at some length describing specific incidents of discrimination against non-believers in the U.S. (FOT 105).

Second, the information regarding Canada is incomplete. The report focuses on public funding for religious schools (6 of 10 provinces) and on the discriminatory hiring practices of these religious school systems allowed in Canada. Nothing is said about the theist National Anthem Act of 1980, nor is the favouritism shown to religions in the Canada Revenue Agency regulations for charitable status or the favouritism shown to religions in land tax exemptions at the municipal level. To be fair, this latter favouritism remains untested by Humanist groups who don't seem interested in real estate. In any case, Canada would likely remain in the same category if these issues were included.

Third, the one must take into account the treatment of non-believers in the courts of each country. Canada certainly fairs better in that sense. Teachers, for example, are less likely to lose jobs because they do not actively push religious ideas than the Swiss teacher who lost his job in the Canton of Valais (FOT 231). Canadians do enjoy the right to make an affirmation rather than swear an oath on a religious text to hold any official office or testify in court.

The real concern must remain with those 13 countries that execute non-believers and the remainder of the 17 per cent that persecute non-believers in grave violation of universal human rights. Our Office of Religious Freedom must make sure that our government is aware of and deals with these countries.

While I have read several statements decrying vandalism of Christian churches, I have yet to see any comment on the assassination of prominent atheist Dr. Narendra Dabholka in India on August 20, 2013 .

In truth, Canada's Office of Religious Freedom has become a clear example of the systemic discrimination rating that Canada deserves. Not only did it not comment on Dr. Dabholkar's assassination, but also since then the Office has issued 9 press releases stating concerns about discrimination against religious communities in foreign countries, 1 press release in support of a religious community, and 1 press release touting its efforts in promoting religious freedom.

It has issued no press release of any kind that condemns discrimination against non-believers (Office of Religious Freedoms - Media Room).

While the IHEU report is accurate enough in placing Canada is the Systemic Discrimination category, its comments on Canada do not fully reveal the depth and breadth of that discrimination.

This report should serve as a wake-up call to everyone who truly supports universal human rights. When 17 per cent of the world's sovereign nations commit grave violations against human beings of any philosophy and only 8 per cent treat people of any philosophy as free and equal, we must speak out. Much of our commentary must be directed to our own imperfect record on this universal human rights issue.

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