Advocacy statements

Freedom of religion or belief: responding to the Holy See

  • Date / 2018
  • Location / Vatican City
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 3: Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights


International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN Human Rights Council, 37th Session (27th February – 23rd March 2018)

General Debate on Item 3

During the Interactive Dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, the Holy See claimed that “freedom from religion” is not protected by international law.[1]

We’re not sure what it meant, because: freedom from coercion to adopt a religion is protected by law; freedom to have no religion is protected by law; freedom to leave a religion is protected by law; and freedom to criticise a religion is protected by law.[2]

And we might remember these freedoms when considering that:

State-based hate against those with no religious belief is also notable:

The Special Rapporteur has previously observed that there exists a misconception that humanists and secularists require no protection.[8]

We ask therefore: How many more humanists, atheists and secularists need to be killed, imprisoned, persecuted and disproportionately targeted for this misconception to change?

We thank the Special Rapporteur for his correction of the Holy See’s claims last Friday, but so long as the rest of the international community stay silent, the rights of the invisible minority of non-believers across the world will continue to be trampled upon, including by members of this Council.


[1] http://webtv.un.org, Holy See statement during ID with UN SR on FoRB

[2] CCPR General Comment No. 22: Article 18 (Freedom of Thought, Conscience or Religion)

[3] http://iheu.org/humanists-actively-persecuted-seven-countries-2017-finds-iheu-report/

[4] http://www.dw.com/en/bangladesh-top-secular-writer-zafar-iqbal-attacked-at-university/a-42813525; http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/nation/2018/03/04/attacked-zafar-iqbal-enemy-islam/, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/gauri-lankesh-murder-here-s-a-list-of-writers-and-journalists-killed-in-recent-years/story-LEcs4gq18AIH3WXsalDdOI.html, http://iheu.org/murder-maldives-tragic-consequence-state-democracy-obliterated/

[5] http://iheu.org/death-for-apostasy-must-not-stand-free-ashraf-fayadh/, https://www.change.org/p/amnesty-international-free-soheil-arabi

[6] http://iheu.org/atheism-dangerous-unconstitutional-says-government-minister-malaysia-wrongly/, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/28/opinion/mona-eltahawy-egypts-war-on-atheism.html http://iheu.org/humanists-denounce-proposed-law-criminalize-atheism-egypt/, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/saudi-arabia-declares-all-atheists-are-terrorists-in-new-law-to-crack-down-on-political-dissidents-9228389.html

[7] http://iheu.org/atheists-selfish-act-without-moral-inhibitions-cyprus-schools-tell-children/

[8] http://freethoughtreport.com/editorial-introduction/

Suggested academic reference

'Freedom of religion or belief: responding to the Holy See', Humanists International

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