In Brief

Atheists in UK face 'systematic discrimination', says report

Meanwhile, political leaders are increasingly using 'hate speech' against the non-religious worldwide

Atheists and humanists face "systematic discrimination" in the UK, according to a report from the International Humanist and Ethical Union.

The IHEU, which annually rates every country in the world for "anti-atheist persecution", found that almost all countries discriminate against the non-religious, in some cases through religious privilege or legal exemption.

Its five-tier rating system goes from "grave violations", "severe discrimination" and "systematic discrimination" through to "mostly satisfactory" and "free and equal".

Countries such as Sudan, Iraq and Nigeria are at the bottom of the scale, while Belgium, the Netherlands and Estonia are at the top. The UK was classified as having "systematic discrimination".

The IHEU accepts that UK laws and policies protect freedom of expression and religion, but says the Church of England and Church of Scotland's status as the established churches gives them a "privileged constitutional status and position in official ceremonies and informally lends them many other advantages".

For example, it points out that the 26 most senior Church of England bishops are automatically granted membership in the House of Lords, where they have the right to vote on all legislation. It also points to "discriminatory tax exemptions" for religious institutions and the increasing proportion of state-funded religious schools.

"These schools are typically allowed to discriminate against students in their admission policies, favouring those of the faith over those of other faiths and of no faith, or even favouring those of other faiths over those of no faith," it says.

The Freedom of Thought report also found that non-religious people are being targeted by "hate campaigns" in many countries around the world, with political leaders increasingly using "hate speech" against atheists.

In some of the worst cases of discrimination in other parts of the world, children have been taken from atheist parents, while laws mandate death sentences for "apostates", says the report.

"This year will be marked by a surge in this phenomenon of state officials and political leaders agitating specifically against non-religious people," it says.

The report singles out the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who this year labelled humanism and secularism as "deviant", while Saudi Arabia comes into criticism for a new law equating atheism with "terrorism".

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