The Freedom of Thought Report

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Preface to the 2021 edition

By Andrew Copson

Andrew Copson is President of Humanists International

This year’s Freedom of Thought Report offers, once again, grim reading. In it we detail the discrimination which humanists and other non-religious people continue to face as a result of daring to express their beliefs and trying to live according to their conscience.

This widespread and continuing hardship is a source of pain to us all, but in this year’s preface, I also want to strike a note of achievement and satisfaction.

This is the tenth annual edition of the Freedom of Thought Report. A decade ago, very little light was shone on the global situation of humanists and other non-religious people and the legal and human rights situation globally as it affects us was unexamined.

This year’s report has seen the introduction of two new boundary conditions, developed in recognition of recurrent issues not previously captured, both of which reflect a challenge to the lives of humanists and other non-religious people. The new conditions highlight that:

  1. The dominant influence of religion in public life undermines the right to equality and/or non-discrimination in 24 countries examined in 2021. Such influence often particularly affects the rights of women and LGBTI+ communities.
  2. The concept of conscientious objection – typically associated with legitimate objections to military service – are used by religious individuals to deny lawful services to women and LGBTI+ people in 4 countries in 2021.

In addition to these new boundary conditions, one big shadow hangs over the human rights of every person considered in this report. Last year, we drew attention to the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on every vulnerable minority. This year, especially with COP26, our attention is recalled to the climate change crisis. That must surely be foremost in our minds as we consider the long term prospects for those whose marginalization and persecution this report highlights. We know that all reasonable models of climate change are likely to result in ever more numbers of displaced persons around the world. Inevitably, this is going to have an impact on the most vulnerable in all of our societies, and that includes the subjects of this report.

As well as this report’s own decennial, 2022 sees us mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of Humanists International.

At our founding Congress in Amsterdam in 1952, the delegates passed a motion saying that the “present situation of our civilization is a challenge to all humanist and ethical groups to extend their activities on an international level”. Much progress has been made in the intervening years. And yet, those words of seven decades ago could be said now without any loss of urgency or resolve. At Humanists International, we recommit ourselves to the ambition they imply, as readers of this report no doubt will also do.