Humanists on the front line of democracies globally, new report shows

Humanists International launches 2023 edition of the Freedom of Thought Report

  • post Type / General news
  • Date / 14 December 2023

Launching today, the Freedom of Thought Report 2023 by Humanists International, now in its 12th annual edition, examines the legal and human rights situation for humanists, atheists and the non-religious around the world. 

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

Andrew Copson, President of Humanists International

In a time when the very foundations of democracy are being challenged across our world, it is crucial to recognize the role humanists play in defending and revitalizing democratic institutions. Humanists are not mere observers; we are active participants in the democratic process, striving to ensure that the voices of reason and compassion are heard. Our commitment to evidence-based decision-making, equality, and the protection of human rights spurs us to contribute meaningfully to the fight against democratic backsliding and provide us with a strong ethical and intellectual platform from which to do so.”

The report finds that humanists are discriminated against in 186 countries across the globe through a combination of the following:

  • Government figures or state agencies openly marginalize, harass, or incite hatred or violence against the non-religious in 11 countries;
  • It is illegal or unrecognized to identify as an atheist or as non-religious in 15 countries;
  • The existence of a state religion;
  • The barring of the non-religious from holding at least some offices in 23 countries;
  • The derivation of state legislation in whole or in part from religious law in 34 countries;
  • Blasphemy remains a punishable offense in at least 87 countries across the globe;
  • The use of religious courts on family or moral matters in 48 countries;
  • Discriminatory funding of religion in 85 countries;
  • It is difficult or illegal to run an overtly humanist organization in 32 countries;
  • The provision of mandatory religious instruction in state-funded schools without a secular or humanist alternative in 33 countries.

The Key Countries edition represents a cross section of the 30 countries updated so far this year, exposing the state of the rights of the non-religious living under different systems of governance — from democracy to absolute monarchy, to theocracy. Countries include Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Burkina Faso, Canada, the Czech Republic, Iran, North Macedonia, Russia, Slovakia, and Zambia.

Copson continues:

“[…]The Freedom of Thought Report reveals many inspiring examples of humanist activism around the world, demonstrating the breadth and depth of our commitment to defending democracy. Whether advocating for secularism, promoting human rights, supporting LGBTI+ rights, or fighting against discrimination and inequality, humanists are at the forefront of these critical battles. Through their work, they aim to create societies that celebrate diversity, respect individual autonomy, and uphold the principles of justice and fairness.”

Human rights defender and humanist leader, Panayote Dimitras

One such activist who has defended democracy and human rights in his home country for decades — and faced a heavy backlash as a result — is Panayote Dimitras, the author of this year’s foreword. Reflecting on his experience:

“Thirty years ago I co-founded the Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights – Greece and in 2010 the Humanist Union of Greece, a Member of Humanists International. Inspired by humanist values, all three NGOs aim at promoting human rights and combatting all forms of discrimination, especially against minorities.


“From the very first steps, I knew that my colleagues and I would face intense and quasi-continuous harassment from the authorities, as Greece has lacked a culture of human rights and in many aspects has been an illiberal democracy.”

Dimitras is one of many humanist human rights defenders facing persecution for their defense of democratic values and promotion of secularism.

For more information, please contact Emma Wadsworth-Jones, Casework & Campaigns Manager, Humanists International, email: [email protected] 


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Notes to editors:

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.

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