IHEU’s president Roy Brown spoke at the UN Commission on Human Rights on 5 April 2005. He urged the Commission to recognise that a truly secular society – one that is neutral in respect of all religions – is a necessary safeguard against religious intolerance – discriminating against none and favouring none. He pointed out that the United Nations is itself a shining example of secularism.
INTERNATIONAL HUMANIST AND ETHICAL UNION
UNION INTERNATIONALE HUMANISTE ET LAIQUE
Statement by Main Representative Roy Brown, Tuesday 5 April 2005
Commission on Human Rights: 61st Session. (14 March – 22 April 2005)
Freedom of Expression (item 11c) and Religious Tolerance (item 11e)
[Only the words in bold were actually spoken, the words in square brackets  were not]
The International Humanist and Ethical Union wishes to thank the Special Rapporteur [on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance] for his report on defamation of religions [E/CN.4/2005/18/Add.4] and particularly for his recommendations to the various religious communities to promote dialogue with other cultures and religious traditions. The world is currently witnessing an upsurge of religious conflict. As history shows, the greatest enemy of any religion has always been another religion.
In the context of the right to freedom of expression, [item 11.c] and religious intolerance [item 11.e], however, we wish to put on record our objection to the paragraph of the report in which the Special Rapporteur speaks of:
“a tradition of secularism that denies religions the possibility if not the right to play a role in public life. This form of prejudice against Christians or ideas based on religion, which exists both in Europe and the United States, mainly concerns questions relating to sex, marriage and the family”.
In this, the Special Rapporteur appears to have confused secular opposition to the imposition of dogmatic Christian views on western society, with discrimination against Christians, and even to have confused secular protection of freedom of conscience and support for the separation of religion and state, with prejudice against religion.
Secularism should not be confused with militant atheism. We urge the Commission to recognise that a truly secular society – one that is neutral in respect of all religions – is a necessary safeguard against religious intolerance – discriminating against none and favouring none. The United Nations is itself a shining example of secularism.
Humanists and Secularists have long been among the most stalwart defenders of freedom of religion and belief. [The great Indian Humanist and jurist VM Tarkunde rightly saw secularism as a solvent to help reduce religious conflict in a multicultural society.] The alternative to secularism is state religion which, by definition, favours one system of belief over all others. Democracy must mean more than dictatorship of the majority. In states where one religion is dominant, the rights of minorities must have constitutional safeguards.
In a statement to the [60th Session of the] Commission last year [under agenda item 14], we urged the Commission to recognize the distinction between defamation of a religion and criticism of its doctrine and practices, and the publication of academic research into its origins and history. Concerns about defamation must not be permitted to stifle honest inquiry and freedom of expression.
Freedom of expression is a basic freedom that we must all work to protect and preserve. Everyone must have the right to speak and act according to their conscience, provided only that they respect the right of others to do the same.