A petition urges the UN to come to
the rescue of non-Muslims and non-believers in Pakistan – who are often the
victims of State Religion – and recognise and celebrate 11 August as the
International Day Against State Religion.
As Pakistan makes history and marks
five years of democracy by successfully upholding general elections, conditions
in Pakistan for non-Muslims and non-believers are far from getting any better.
The 2013 election has been termed the most violent election in the history of
Pakistan. The Taliban carried out their threats and attacked
convoys and rallies of secular
and even Islamist
political parties. Here is
a whole timeline of pre-poll violence in Pakistan. Even on Election Day, the violence
Non-Muslim candidates were largely absent
from the elections, but those who ran were voted for because electors felt they
could offer protection. The Christian residents of Joseph
Colony, a Christian community that was
attacked by a Muslim mob earlier this year, voted for the conservative party
Jamaat-i-Islami's non-Muslim candidate because they wanted to vote
Conditions in Pakistan for
non-Muslims are grim.
and again in 2012 the World Council Of Churches stated that minority
religious communities in Pakistan are living in “fear and terror” of
Islamic fundamentalists amid abductions and forced conversions that the
government is helpless to stop.WCC’s
ruling Central Committee declared that Pakistan’s small Hindu
and Christian communities were increasingly subject to “persecution
and discrimination”. Likewise, Ahmaddiya Muslims
outlawed and at the mercy of Islamists. In light of these and other incidents where non-Muslim and non-believer
Pakistanis have been victims of persecution and intolerance, a petition
has been set up calling on the Secretary General of the United Nations to
recognise an International Day Against State Religion on August 11, 2013 “in
solidarity with victims of the State Religion, namely, non-Muslims and
non-believers of Pakistan”. The
petition says "the life of non-Muslims and non-believers of Pakistan is as
good as hell thanks to the State Religion of Pakistan.” There is now a need for
State Religion to be hit by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Ethics class in action. Image: Primary Ethics/Summer Hill Media
Imagine for a
minute that you’re the parent of a young child and you’ve just received a
letter from his or her school asking whether you would like your child to be
included in scripture classes or not. You re-read the letter, wondering if
there’s an alternative option you’ve missed, but it remains a simple yes or no.
So you say yes and send it back, glad that your child will be included and
hoping the school will provide important moral teaching.
you had said no, however, you would have received a follow-up letter informing
you about ethics classes that are being offered as an alternative. These are
the volunteer-provided Primary Ethics classes that were created to provide
children with a secular alternative to scripture classes in New South Wales (Australia) government
schools, which are nominally non-religious. The program, funded by the St James
Ethics Centre, aims to teach children about ethical decision making, how to
think logically, formulate arguments and rationalise information in an
inclusive environment. It was initiated in 2010 partly for children not taking part in
scripture classes, whose only alternative had been being physically separated from
their classmates without alternative class work. According to Helen Walton, the
president of the Federation of Parents
and Citizens’ Associations of New South Wales, “ethics classes provided parents a choice
in how their child was meaningfully engaged when other students were
participating in SRE (Special Religious Education)”.
A survey released by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in late 2012 identified the Religiously Unaffiliated, or ‘Nones’ as the third largest ‘faith’ group in the world, 16% or 1.1 billion, approximately the same number as Catholics. 900 million of these unaffiliated reside in the Asia-Pacific region, where they make up an average 21.2% of the population. Europe is the next largest region then North America. Latin America, Africa and the Middle East all lag behind, with 7.7%, 3.2%, and 0.6% of the populations identified as ‘Nones’.
A trending study by WIN-Gallup International in 2012 noted that religiosity is declining worldwide while atheism and non-belief are increasing. Religiosity has fallen by 9 points just since 2005, while the number of atheists has almost doubled. The U.S., France, UK, Ireland, Canada as well as Vietnam are included in the top-10 list of countries to have experienced a "notable decline in religiosity" since 2005. 'Nones' tend to be younger than the overall population.
2. Islamic Religious Violence and Intimidation Explodes in Response to Offence
2012 was a year with multiple incidents where Islamist leaders reacted to criticism, mocking and attacks on their faith by fomenting and encouraging violence to express their displeasure. At the same time, Islamic nations cracked down on religious dissent in their own countries and again demanded that the UN adopt anti-blasphemy laws as a ‘human right’ (albeit the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has now abandoned this path - refer #9). Atheists were exceptionally vulnerable to these actions but the problem extends far beyond the atheist community, to the level of being an international menace that threatens not just free speech rights, but human lives and livelihoods.
Image: The president of STR, Lee Kwang-won, submits petition to the Seoul Education Chief.
Source: Christian Television System of Korea.
The Society for Textbook Revision (STR), which triggered the science textbook dispute in South Korea with its “petition for Archaeopteryx removal”, has submitted a third petition for revision, this time saying that science textbooks that reference the Miller-Urey experiment – considered as a classic experiment on the origin of life – are wrong.
STR said it submitted the petition for the revision of high school science textbooks on 18 December 2012 to the acting Seoul Education Chief Lee Dae-young. This petition, titled “Chemical evolution has nothing to do with birth of life – focusing on Miller's experiment and synthetic response” was signed by 175 science-related educators including 85 science and engineering university professors, 67 middle and high school science teachers and 23 elementary school teachers. Most of the STR members who signed the petition are known to be Christians.
The petition contains a claim that “the described contents of chemical evolution about the ‘birth of life’ recorded in current science textbooks are based on assumption and imagination and contradicts with today's academic research contents [translation]” and “we have to remove chemical evolution [translation]”. It stated that if the content was difficult to remove, “it must be revised...that experimental ground of chemical evolution is very weak, especially Miller's experiment is not relevant with birth of life [translation]”.
The Seoul Education Office received the petition and stated that it would arrange expert council soon and embark on review work.
Let’s face it, atheists have been the ultimate scapegoat for society’s problems for years and we have often just accepted this role in society. Perhaps it is easiest; perhaps we find it pointless to put up a fight against the narrow-minded. The longer we do not fight back against this prejudice, the more likely it is this role will stick, and that this way of thinking will be passed down through generations.
I have often been subject to countless assumptions about myself purely based on the fact that I do not subscribe to an all-powerful being in the sky. But a recent event struck a chord with me. Whilst on a train journey to work I was approached by a woman carrying a Bible who asked me what I personally thought of ‘our Lord Saviour Jesus Christ’. Although I was in no mood to get into a heated debate about my thoughts on God or Christianity, I felt obliged to tell her that I do not believe in God. I braced myself for the initial shock, and I was not disappointed: her expression was of sheer terror, as though I had just told her that I sacrifice goats on a daily basis when the sun goes down. As much as I anticipated this reaction, the response that shocked me above all was when she asked me whether I felt love. Is this really how the religious still views the nonreligious? That we are incapable of love, that we are hollow, cold sinners?
I have been contemplating this notion of how the nonreligious community is perceived for a while now and following the horrific events of the Connecticut shootings in which 28 people were killed, including children, it dawned on me that as a community, atheists tolerate an absurd level of prejudice against their lack of belief. After reading an article via Twitter, I came across a statement made by former US Presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee whereby he indirectly blamed the Connecticut massacre on the atheist community by proclaiming that the shooting rampage was the natural result of our having “systematically removed God from our schools”. Would Christians stand for being blamed if Lanza had been educated in a faith school? Have atheists and the notion of a God-free curriculum become the ultimate scapegoat for political and societal problem?
I worked in a Iranian police office for two years, and it was common to see women being mistreated by the so-called Morality Police on Tehran's streets. The Morality Police have not been trained in any aspects of moral studies, but have have been given the authority to stop people on the street, give them advice on their outfits and ask for immediate action. People can be arrested if they do not follow this advice, on the grounds of abusing the Islamic hijab. This has become a social phobia in Iran.
Stories from people who have dealt with the Morality Police show that there are no clear laws and rules in place; the Morality Police treat people according to their own personal wishes. A husband and wife who were arrested say that it occurred because the wife was wearing a white outfit. The Police forced the wife to sit inside a minibus in Narmak Square in Tehran, while photographers from different agencies took pictures. When the husband complained about the situation he was also arrested and taken to the police station. This is only one of the minor cases that acts to suppress dissent - treating people who wear 'different' outfits as though they are not a part of society and have to be taken away. Sometimes activities by the Morality Police are reported in the Western media (eg here and here) but usually they are not.
Grinch....or just different? (image: Dr Seuss' The Grinch)
Our poor senses have been abused recently by the most prominent holiday of the year (at least in Western countries): Christmas. Even as a budding atheist last year I celebrated it. It can be quite fun. But it always feels as if those who choose not to participate in these yearly solstice-based activities, be it due to their beliefs or lack thereof, are demonised in our culture. Even the basic act of ignoring the Christmas season is seen as supremely anti-social.
For some reason, it seems to be those few social 'commentators' who think that their insightful rantings and lists on why EVERYONE should be joyful around Christmas time always receive publicity in the media. Those who write nice and simple articles about the need for some variation in holiday music for the non-religious among us and those of other religions  are ignored in favour of things such as one of the many over-hyped nonsense lists on "Why you need to stop being a Christmas grump". 
Those who come out against public collections of art only depicting nativity scenes are shown as 'grinches' or 'grumps'. Those who ask that Christmas messages are not splayed over every wall and window in shopping centers are told to be quiet and bare the brunt of the mass marketing of an over-stated holiday. And don't even start about the infamous 'war on Christmas'.  It makes me want to rip my hair out even more than the holiday and its consumerism itself.
So, for those of you out there who don't need a certain date on which to give gifts to those whom you love, for those of you who don't see the significance in celebrating a conglomeration of pagan and Christian traditions, and for those of you who prefer to read a book or play games instead of listening to "important sounding dead languages"  during a mass, I say to you, you are not alone.
On 7 December Atheist Alliance International (AAI) launched Atheist Census at www.atheistcensus.com, a global project to count and capture a snapshot of the world’s atheists. The response to Atheist Census was very positive, with 8,880 entries confirmed and another c. 2,300 pending before it was taken offline as a result of a DoS (denial of service) attack, about 17 hours after launch.
Atheist Census is now back online with a higher level of protection, and entries have already grown to over 20,000. The President of Atheist Alliance International, Carlos A. Diaz, said "It seems that there are people who do not want atheists to be counted, who do not want to accept that as more people question and think critically about religion atheists are a growing demographic. It is a measure of the project's success - even at this early stage - that some people wanted to shut it down." He added "While truth and fair public policy are not determined by popularity, demonstrating the significance of the non-religious community will assist our efforts to promote a secular world. I encourage all atheists to be counted in Atheist Census."
Participants in Atheist Census identify their preferred non-religious title, religious (if any) background, education level level, age, gender identity and country. Participation is free, with an option to make a financial donation to help cover development and operating costs.
Written by Jo Stephanie, News Team
13 December 2012
For a second it seemed that Malawi was on
its way towards improved rights for its gay community. After being sworn in as President in April 2012, Joyce Banda promised to overturn the
country’s anti-gay laws. Following this, in November 2012 the Malawian
government announced that it was suspending anti-gay laws and ordered police to
stop arresting gay people. Malawian
churches acted swiftly to strongly oppose the announcement. As reported by the
Independent/Reuters, the Malawi Council of Churches, a coalition of 24 church
groups, pressured the government until its backed down and reversed the decision.
While Malawi is officially a secular state,
recent events show that separation of church and state does not occur in practice. In Malawi (and many other African countries) religious institutions
use their positions to influence national politics and further their agendas. Gay
people continue to be marginalised
largely due to religious influence. As a
gay man in Malawi put it, the Council of Churches "believes
that gays are not human beings and should not be allowed to be free."  Secularism
promotes human rights for all but, as demonstrated in Malawi, religious
institutions choose their particular interpretation of their particular god’s law over human rights.
On 7 December Atheist Alliance International launched Atheist Census at www.atheistcensus.com, a global project to count and collect information on the world's atheists. The response to Atheist Census was very positive, with 8,880 confirmed entries and another c. 2,300 pending before the site was taken offline as a result of a DoS (denial of service) attack, around 17 hours after launch. We do not know who was behind the attack, but it's a reasonable conclusion that they do not like atheists being counted. We are working hard to get Atheist Census online again.
Carlos A. Diaz
President, Atheist Alliance International
Atheist Alliance was established in 1991 as a
democratic network of US-based atheist organizations plus one non-US
organization. Over time Atheist Alliance
expanded to include more non-US members and changed its name to Atheist
Alliance International (AAI) in 2001. In
2010 AAI had 31 US-based affiliates and 18 non-US based affiliates. At this time the board of AAI concluded that
its goals could be achieved more effectively by separating into two
organizations – one focused on US local and national issues and one focused on
providing a supportive global network for atheist and freethought organizations
around the world. In October 2010 the
separation was approved in principle by AAI’s members and in June 2011 AAI effectively
separated into Atheist Alliance International and Atheist Alliance of America.