The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) launched its 7th annual Freedom of Thought Report at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City last year. For the first time ever the report contains a full ranking of every country in the world, according to its level of discrimination against atheists, humanists and the non-religious.

Speaking at the launch of the report at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, said, “The Freedom of Thought Report has become an invaluable source of well-researched and important information for policymakers. The report highlights the range of discrimination that people can face around the world because of their non-religious beliefs, something that many would like to ignore.”

The report is published by the world’s leading organization for the non-religious, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), and highlights the best and worst countries in which to be an atheist. The first Freedom of Thought report was published in 2012, in response to a meeting between the United States Department of State and the American Humanist Association. The IHEU supports humanists at risk of persecution, and has issued a renewed call for funding and donations to continue their important work.

The Report covers every independent country in the world and looks at issues like how ‘freedom of religion or belief’ and ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘association’ are respected in law and in practice.

For example, the Report highlights if it’s not possible to register a non-religious organization, or to identify as religious, or if some government positions are reserved for members of certain religions. It looks at things like whether tax exemptions are given to religious groups, especially if there is no equivalent for secular groups. It looks at whether there is mandatory religious instruction in schools, which may violate the rights of children to think freely and develop their own worldview, and whether religious schools are funded with public money (a problem in many countries is that parents in some areas have no choice but to send their children to a religious school). And of course it looks for explicit persecution, such as when religious or political leaders, or even heads of state denounce atheists simply for being atheists, and non-believers are attacked and murdered.

The objective of the report is to document violations and raise criticism against countries on human rights grounds, highlight individuals’ stories so as to show how discriminatory laws can affect people, inform expert opinion and high-level debates and open up discussion of persecution against the non-religious more generally.


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For the first time, the report contains a full ranking of every country in the world according to its level of discrimination against atheists, humanists and the non-religious.

The top 10 countries identified are as follows: Belgium, Netherlands, Taiwan, Nauru, France, Japan, São Tomé and Príncipe, Norway, United States of America and Saint Kitts and Nevis.

The bottom are: Brunei Darussalam, Sudan, Malaysia, Mauritania, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Maldives, Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The penultimate country on the list is Iran, and Saudi Arabia occupies the final position on the list of over 190 nations. This ranking firmly cements Saudi Arabia as the worst nation to live in as an atheist.

The appearance of Malaysia and Maldives in the bottom 10 is due to a rise in incidents of anti-atheist rhetoric in the past few years. In the Maldives, alleged atheists have been kidnapped, and secular activists have been disappeared or murdered; citizenship is restricted to Muslims and the previous government created and enforced an autocratic program of Islamization, though this may change following an unexpected defeat in last month’s elections.

In Pakistan, last year’s “anti-blasphemy crackdown” features prominently, several alleged atheist bloggers and activists having been arrested and tortured on charges of making posts online that were “insulting” to religion. Pre-trial detention and the slow progress of ‘blasphemy’ cases is a well-known issue in the Pakistani justice system, and some of those arrested as “atheists” early last year remain in prison.

Andrew Copson, President of the IHEU, noted, “This is a world’s first. For the first time our report will show, with authority and accuracy, the discrimination faced by people around the world because of their non-religious beliefs. This report paints a dark picture, with significant discrimination faced by our non-religious friends and colleagues around the world.

“At a time of growing nationalism, we continue to see those who are brave enough to criticize and critique conservative religious leaders demonized as ‘unpatriotic’ and ‘subversive’.

Find the report in full here.

Find the data behind the report here.

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