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Humanists International launches 2021 edition of the Freedom of Thought Report

  • post Type / General news
  • Date / 16 November 2021

Launching today, the Freedom of Thought Report 2021 by Humanists International, now in its tenth annual edition, examines the legal and human rights situation for humanists, atheists and the non-religious around the world.

The report finds that humanists are discriminated against in 144 countries across the globe through a combination of the following:

  • There is a State religion in 39 countries across the globe;
  • State legislation is derived, in whole or in part, from religious law in 35 countries;
  • Government figures or state agencies openly marginalize, harass, or incite hatred or violence against the non-religious in 12 countries;
  • Blasphemy remains a punishable offence in at least 83 countries across the globe; among those, the death penalty may be applied in 6 countries;
  • Apostasy is a criminal offence in 17 countries, punishable with death in 12 of them;
  • Discriminatory funding of religion in 79 countries;
  • The use of religious courts on family or moral matters in 19 countries;
  • The barring of the non-religious from holding at least some offices in 26 countries;
  • The provision of mandatory religious instruction in state-funded schools without a secular or humanist alternative in 33 countries;
  • it is difficult or illegal to run an overtly humanist organization in 16 countries.

Each year, one third of all countries across the globe are reviewed as part of a rolling cycle of updates. This year’s print edition examines 15 countries across the globe that have been updated in 2021, including recent developments in Afghanistan, Ghana, Myanmar, and Uruguay.

The subject of iteration, this year’s report has seen the introduction of two new boundary conditions, developed in recognition of recurrent issues not previously captured in the report that reflect the undermining of humanist values. The new conditions highlight that:

  1. The dominant influence of religion in public life undermines the right to equality and/or non-discrimination in 24 countries examined in 2021. Such influence often particularly affects the rights of women and LGBTI+ communities.
  2. Unregulated conscientious objection clauses can result in the denial of lawful services to women and LGBTI+ people in 4 countries reviewed in 2021.

Introducing this year’s report, President of Humanists International, Andrew Copson, stated:

“This year’s Freedom of Thought Report offers, once again, grim reading. In it we detail the discrimination which humanists and other non-religious people continue to face as a result of daring to express their beliefs and to try to live according to their conscience.

“Last year, we drew attention to the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on every vulnerable minority. This year, especially with COP26, our attention is recalled to the climate change crisis. That must surely be foremost in our minds and we consider the long term prospects for those whose marginalisation and persecution this report highlights.”

UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed

The report’s launch coincides with the 40-year anniversary of the passage of the UN General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. Reflecting on the persecution of the non-religious, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed,

“A fundamental point to remember always is that freedom of religion or belief, as a human right, protects human beings, not religions or beliefs, as such. […]

Humanists International and other civil society organisations play an invaluable role in documenting human rights violations, holding the powerful to account for their violations of freedom of thought and freedom of religion or belief. I welcome the publication of the 2021 Freedom of Thought Report of Humanists International, in recording the experiences of not just humanists and the non-religious all over the world, but also those who may be deeply religious but are dissenters, illuminating both key trends and individual cases of concern. Targeting individuals with hatred, violence and discrimination based on their religion or belief identity is contrary to international human rights law, and has no place in any society.”

For more information, please contact Emma Wadsworth-Jones, Casework & Campaigns Manager, Humanists International, email: report@humanists.international


Humanists International is the global representative democratic body of the humanist movement, which unites a diversity of humanist (and other non-religious) organizations and individuals. We want everyone to live a life of dignity in a world where universal human rights are respected and protected, including adherence to political secularism by all states. We work to build, support and represent the global humanist movement by defending human rights, particularly those pertaining to non-religious people, and promoting humanist values world-wide as exemplified in the Amsterdam Declaration (2002).

Humanists International, Inc. is a US not-for-profit 501-c(3) registered in New York (Registered address: 1821 Jefferson Pl NW, Washington, DC 20036). Humanists International is also the trading name of Humanists International 2020, a Scottish (UK) charity no. SC050629. Registered address: 272 Bath Street, Glasgow, G4 2JR, UK. Principal Office: 17 Oval Way, London, SE11 5RR, UK.


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