A time to remember all those around the globe who cannot freely express, live life, and celebrate in accordance with, their own beliefs. Opinion piece Barking and Dagenham Post 15.12.21.
Happy Christmas! We can all celebrate it in our own way, whatever our belief. That’s something to celebrate in itself.
But we should not forget those who live in countries where belief, or non-belief, is criminalised. The Freedom of Thought Report, published in November, makes grim reading, and shows that the non-religious are among the most persecuted groups across the globe. 84 countries have criminal punishments for blasphemy or apostasy. In 13 they are a capital offence. In 12 countries the state openly harasses or incites hatred against the non-religious. There have been murders, arrests and disappearances of Humanists in several countries, including Nigeria, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan – all Commonwealth members.
The Report, published annually by Humanists International since 2012, is highly regarded and used here and in the UN to seek reform and protection for those at risk. Of course, privilege and discrimination based on belief extends far beyond the criminal law. In many countries, for example, the religious hold sway when it comes to family rights. We see in the US how Christian fundamentalists are trying to turn back the clock on women’s and gay rights.
Few countries get a clear scorecard, and the UK is not exempt from criticism. While we may be further down the secular road, our education system is seriously flawed, with the state funding religious schools which have discriminatory admission and employment practices. Teaching about non-religious world views is lacking in many schools. And our second chamber is still one of only two in the world where unelected clergy get to vote, the other being Iran.
Freedom of religion and belief should be cherished. A level playing field where no religion or belief receives particular advantage or detriment is the best way to protect everyone’s rights. It is important to value the freedoms we enjoy, and to remember those less fortunate.
And we should relish our festive season as an opportunity where everyone can join in to celebrate life, love and fellowship, whatever else they do or don’t believe in.
Chair East London Humanists