The petition, reviewed by Humanists International, wrongly claims the organization’s registration and continued operation violate several articles of the Kenyan Constitution, including the right to freedom of religion or belief, as well as its preamble which acknowledges the “supremacy of the Almighty God of all creation.” The petitioner – a known Christian fundamentalist – labels atheism “dangerous for the human mind and mankind.”
This is the second time that Atheists in Kenya Society has faced a legal battle. In 2016, the organization was initially denied formal registration on the grounds that “The Registrar has reasonable cause to believe that the interests of peace welfare [sic] or good order in Kenya would be likely to suffer prejudice by reason of your registration as a Society.”
Harrison Mumia, President of Atheists in Kenya, in a press release said:
“This petition is aimed at fermenting the notion that Kenya is a nation by and for believers in God only. It is an assault on freedom of religion or belief and an insult to the diversity of the Kenyan people. We find the petition repugnant to good conscience. […]
“We would like to inform atheists and Kenyans at large that will do everything within our power to defend our right to remain a registered society.”
A secular nation on paper, Kenya’s Constitution enshrines the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, and freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion. However, Christian and Muslim groups appear to benefit from a privileged position in society. The allegations made in the petition appear to be based on a lack of understanding of the right to freedom of religion or belief as enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (quoted in the petition), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – to which Kenya is a signatory – and, by extension, the Kenyan Constitution.
UN General Comment No. 22 clarifies that, “Article 18 protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The terms ‘belief’ and ‘religion’ are to be broadly construed. Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with institutional characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions.” International law is therefore clear in conveying the right to manifest one’s beliefs equally to all, limited only by restrictions that are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. In short, atheism and theism are protected equally as manifestations of the fundamental right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.
Javan Lev Poblador, Membership Development Officer of Humanists International, said:
“Kenya does not have a state religion and lays out a secular system of law that protects every individual’s right to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression. To suspend Atheists in Kenya Society’s registration is a violation of their rights and sets a dangerous precedent for any minority group in the country seeking to be recognized.
We join in calling for the Kenyan High Court to quash the petition immediately and without prejudice.”