Humanists International calls UN attention to threat to science from religious right

  • post Type / Advocacy News
  • Date / 21 March 2024

In a written submission to the UN followed by an oral statement at the Human Rights Council, Humanists International has highlighted the threat of disinformation to realising the right to science, especially in terms of comprehensive sexuality education and abortion, most often proliferated by the religious right.

The written submission was made ahead of the UN Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights, Dr Alexandra Xanthaki, writing a report on realising the right to science, which encompasses both the right to participate in science and to access the benefits of science.

The submission highlighted several issues of concern to Humanists International, including the right to receive comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) and access to abortion; and scientific research in the context of academic freedom and blasphemy laws.

It made clear the link between CSE and realising the right to science, and pointed out:

“CSE involves education and access to information about science and is grounded in developments of science. It is also part of ensuring that everyone has equal access to the results of scientific progress […] CSE also contributes to developing the type of critical thinking the Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights highlighted as a prerequisite for implementing the right to science.”

It also pointed out that the provision of CSE has been linked to positive outcomes in terms of preventing safe abortion and increased contraceptive use.

The submission detailed how disinformation about CSE has proliferated across all regions, but is often funded by groups based in Europe or North America affiliated with the Christian Right. These disinformation campaigns are often well-coordinated, and demonize members of the LGBTI+ community, discourage the use of contraception, and misrepresent CSE as a neo-colonialist process. It also noted that the narratives of these campaigns are:

“frequently grounded in explicitly anti-LGBTI+ sentiment and rhetoric; with claims including CSE programmes “indoctrinate youth to embrace radical sexual and gender ideologies,” promote homosexuality, and endanger learners.”

Humanists International’s submission also highlighted the phenomenon of interference and threats from political and religious entities within the realm of scientific and academic freedom. It said:

“scientific debate is often stifled and quashed where there is an ideological clash with religion or where academics, scholars, and researchers are deemed as a threat to a government’s line. Blasphemy and apostasy laws are one common tool used in this.”

The submission built upon previous interventions at the UN made by Humanists International on the subject of science and comprehensive sexuality education, including a statement made by Director of Advocacy, Elizabeth O’Casey, at the 54th Session of the Human Rights Council, in which she called attention to the global opposition against CSE, and one during UNESCO’s 42nd General Policy Debate where O’Casey warned of threats to CSE in the context of attacks on human rights, multilateralism and tolerance.

The Special Rapporteur’s report, published on the 4th March, took into account many of Humanists International’s recommendations, including recognizing disinformation in the context of comprehensive sexuality education and the threat of restrictions to the right to science based on religious morality, including blasphemy laws.

The written submission was followed up by an oral statement made to the 55th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, during an Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur. The statement was delivered by Humanists International’s Advocacy Officer, Leon Langdon. It endorsed the Special Rapporteur’s calls for the avoidance of an exclusionary definition of science, and exclusionary processes to science, and reasserted the issues of disinformation and misinformation in the scientific field, as well as the use of blasphemy laws and religious morality to stifle progress by researchers and scientists who challenge those in power.

Featured photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash.

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