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AAI Position Statement - Freedom of expression

Freedom of expression is an essential human righti and a foundational principle of a free society.

There is an inherent conflict between freedom of expression and the desire of some religious people to have their beliefs treated with deference. Commonly, restrictions on freedom of expression are sought through anti-blasphemy laws, laws against “incitement to religious hatred” or the use of violence and intimidation against those who are claimed to cause religious offence.

Given the diversity of religious worldviews, offence is the inevitable outcome of the critical assessment of religious or irreligious perspectives. As a subjective concept, offence is a not a reasonable basis for restricting freedom of expression; to do so would essentially render freedom of expression meaningless and limit the critical discussion of ideas to whichever perspective happens to be supported by the legal system or physical strength present in any country.

Further, restrictions on freedom of expression on the basis of religious offence privilege religious views above other types of views – such restrictions provide a shield against critical analysis and comment, yet no rational basis exists for protecting religious views when other contentious social or political views are not protected.

If a society is to value and respect all its citizens it must unequivocally stand against those who seek to limit offence through violence, intimidation or legislation. No ideology, religious or otherwise, should be permitted to dictate that certain views are exempt from scrutiny, critical analysis, comment, satire or mockery. A view that cannot withstand such examination is not credible and should be re-considered by the holder, not protected by laws or defended with violence or intimidation.

Any offence caused by views being challenged, criticised or even mocked – whether a person is religious or not – is the negligible, but vital, price of human freedom.

i Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers. Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: 1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. 2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. 3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.

AAI Position Statement - Government Support For Religion

 

Atheist Alliance International (AAI) strongly opposes government support for religion whether symbolic or financial.

It is an essential human right that people have the freedom to be religious or not religious as they choose. [1]  It is also an essential principle of a fair and just society that all citizens should be treated equally by the law,without discrimination on the basis of religion or other such factor. [2]  Given the inevitable diversity of religious views within any society - and the propensity for those views to change overtime - the only approach that can fully satisfy these principles is for governments to be neither religious nor atheistic, but neutral on the topic of religion, ie secular.

Government support for religion in any form is a violation of this principle of neutrality.

Symbolic government support for any religion – including but not limited to the existence of state-established religions or religious positions in legislative bodies; the display of crucifixes, the star and crescent or menorahs on public property; government statements of religious doctrine, commandments or scriptures; endorsement of religion by government officials; religious references in government documents or on currency; government proclamations of days of prayer, worship or other religious activity; prayers or religious incantations at government events or within legislative bodies – is an act of state-sponsored proselytism as it implicitly endorses particular religions above all others and above no religion.

Financial government support for any religion – such as the availability of tax-exempt status on the basis of religious faith; the provision of grants for faith-based activities, employment or sponsorship of persons who provide religious support to individuals or groups; sponsorship of missionary activity; the funding of social welfare programs that incorporate religious elements or entities that require a declaration of religious affiliation as a condition of membership - effectively involves the distribution of tax revenue from all state citizens to those who benefit through their religious affiliation.

Both symbolic and financial support for religion by governments necessarily favours certain citizens through the exclusion of those with different viewpoints.

In a fair and just society governments will represent all citizens equally, neither favouring nor disadvantaging any person on the basis of their religious or non-religious views.  AAI advocates for such a society and therefore opposes all symbolic and financial support for religious groups.  Further, AAI does not support the practice of non-religious groups claiming that their non-religious worldview is analogous to a religious worldview and receiving government support on that basis.  The absence of religion is not a religion and the receipt of such support implicitly endorses the concept that religious faith is a reasonable basis for the allocation of government money, whereas AAI considers that government money should be allocated on the basis of society’s and citizens’ economic and social needs.

[1] Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR): Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.  Article 18 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR): Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

[2] Article 7 of the UDHR: All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.