The Freedom of Thought report is published by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), the worldwide umbrella of Humanist, atheist, secular and similar organisations.

In 2012 the report covered 60 countries, and we knew that until the report had truly global scope we were omitting many serious problems faced by the non-religious. So we worked extremely hard to expand the 2013 report and since then it has included every country on the planet, as well as a rating system to assess the status of the country.

In 2016 we introduced the Online Edition of the report. Every country report now appears on its own page with an interactive ratings table. See the full Country Index.

The inaugural report in 2012 grew out of work by several IHEU Member Organisations (see “History of the report” below) and IHEU asks its Members, experts and other relevant parties to make submissions for the report throughout the year.

Systemic discrimination

We believe it is important to document discriminatory national laws and state authorities which violate freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression. As well as affecting the overtly nonreligious, such as atheists and Humanists, such systemic discrimination also often affects the religious, in particular minorities and non-conformists, and the unaffiliated (those who hold no particular religion or worldview-level belief).

Systemic, legal discrimination can include such things as established state churches (resulting in religious privilege), religious instruction provided without secular ethical alternative classes in schools, through to severe punishments such as prison for crimes of “insulting” religion, or death merely for expressing your atheism.

Individual cases

The Freedom of Thought report details highlighted cases of individuals who have been targeted, usually for expressing their non-religious views, or for promoting secularism (church-state separation, religious neutrality) or for criticising particular religious institutions or ideas. The report also includes some individual cases where religious people, usually in a minority situation, are persecuted under similar laws in circumstances which closely reflect or feed into abuses against the nonreligious, such as when they are targeted by laws against religious conversion or blasphemy.

Purpose of the Freedom of Thought report

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has undertaken to publish this annual report in order to contribute toward several purposes.

  • Leveraging public criticism against countries on human rights grounds. In the days after the first report was published, the election of Mauritania and the Maldives to the vice-presidency of the UN Human Rights Council was criticised, their inclusion in the Freedom of Thought report cited as evidence of their human rights failures. Mainstream media in countries which were criticised in the report, for example Indonesia’s Jakarta Globe, not only covered the launch but were prompted to look in particular at the country’s freedom of religion or belief violations.
  • Influencing the international expert debate and opinion. In 2017 the Freedom of Thought Report was cited by the new UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief in his inaugural report. Our report was the only civil society publication to be cited in this way: a measure of its uniqueness and importance. The Report is increasingly cited in discussion of non-religious rights under ‘freedom of religion or belief’, for example in this academic volume due out in 2018 on human rights and “freedom from religion”.
  • Highlighting individual’s stories. The report includes verified cases of violations again individuals. This serves to coney how bad laws can affect people, as well as corroborating those individual’s cases in a human rights context. On this site we provide resources and a walk-through of the United Nations complaints mechanism for people whose rights may have been violated.
  • Providing a tool for activists and civil society. Moving the report online has made the material more accessible than ever before. Every country has its own page and we publish all the data under a Creative Commons license.
  • Opening up discussion of persecution against the non-religious more generally. Around the publication of the report our representatives discussed the issues in article and live appearances and we worked to ensure that mainstream media reported on the publication (e.g. ReutersWashington Post). The news was also taken up by citizen journalists (e.g. Examiner.com), popular general interest sites (e.g. Slate.com) and many widely read special interest blogs (e.g. Friendly Atheist).

History of the report

The idea for a global report on anti-atheist discrimination was first suggested by the US State Department Office for International Religious Freedom. In the spring of 2012 the American Humanist Association (AHA) met with the Office to raise concerns about discrimination and human rights violations directed against people because of their Humanism, atheism or lack of religion. The Office responded by asking the AHA to submit a detailed international report on such discrimination.

The AHA invited the Center for Inquiry, International Humanist and Ethical Union , Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, and Secular Coalition for America to work together on a joint report. These organizations drew on their expertise, and their global networks of groups and contacts, to create a 40 page report, covering nearly 40 nations around the world.

On August 8, 2012 representatives of these five groups visited the US State Department to meet with the US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom and to present the “2012 Report on Discrimination Against Atheists, Humanists and the Non-Religious”.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union, with the support of existing partners and consulting with IHEU Member Organisations in countries around the world, then revised and expanded the report to almost twice the size. IHEU launched this new edition for an international audience on Human Rights Day (December 10), 2012, as “Freedom of Thought 2012: A Global Report on Discrimination against Humanists, Atheists and the Non-Religious”, intended as the first in a series of annual reports on the same topic. See the Preface to the 2016 edition for more information on what’s happened since then.