AAI's Top 10 Atheist / Religious Discrimination Stories of 2012

1.  The Rise of 'Nones' in the World

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.

References: Pew Forum, Huffington Post, Time, LA Times, UK Census

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.

In 2012, news organizations regularly reported on riots and violence organized by Islamic extremists for offences that included the alleged burning of pages of the Koran, the internet posting of a movie trailer that mocked Mohammed, volunteer medical workers attempting to deliver anti-polio vaccines, and - what has become so common as to rarely raise any notice - attacks against women for such mundane reasons as daring to try to escape arranged or abusive marriages, being seen in public or even just staying in school to gain an education. The clear intent of all of these actions has been to mute any criticism of Islam and to demonstrate severe consequences to those who might do otherwise.

References: Global Post, IB Times, NY Times, LA Times

3.  Worldwide Persecution Against Atheists, Humanists Documented in Report for the UN

Atheists and other religious skeptics suffer persecution or discrimination in many parts of the world, and in at least seven nations can be executed if their views become known, according to a report delivered to the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religions or belief. The report, "Freedom of Thought 2012", issued by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU). 

In 2012, a number of atheists were arrested and convicted of ‘insulting religion’, from Alexander Aan in Indonesia for posting “God does not exist” on Facebook to Alber Saber in Egypt for daring to post an imagined conversation of social commentary between himself and Mohammed on his blog, to Indian activist Sanal Edamaruku having to flee India to avoid arrest for embarrassing the Catholic church by exposing the ‘miracle’ of a ‘crying Jesus’ statue.

References: Huffington Post [1], Huffington Post [2], Christian Post, Huffington Post [3], Rationalist International, CNN

4.    The Impact Of Religion And ‘Nones’ On The US Presidential Election

The 2012 US Presidential election was notable for the shrill cry and resounding defeat of religious conservative groups in favor of a new block of non-religious voters who supported President Obama’s re-election (81%) and passed measures legalizing same-sex marriage and recreational marijuana use. 

References: Click2Houston, Religion News

5.    Cologne Court Finds Circumcision To Be A Form Of Child Abuse

Circumcision of young boys on religious grounds should be considered as grievous bodily harm, a German appeals court has said, in a landmark ruling that clears up a grey area for doctors. The regional court in Cologne, western Germany, ruled that the "fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents."  The case was brought against a doctor who had circumcised a four-year-old Muslim boy in accordance with his parents' wishes. In response the German government amended the Civil Code to explicitly permit circumcision, effectively overturning the court’s decision.

References: Paediatrics Update, NDJWorld, Der Spiegel, Hurriyet Daily News

6. Europeans ‘De-Baptize’ in Growing Numbers

Religious groups, especially Catholics and Protestants, are noting growing wave of de-baptisms in Europe. Websites offering informal de-baptism certificates have mushroomed. Other Christians are formally breaking from the church in order to opt out of state church taxes. While there are no official statistics, experts and secular activists count the numbers of de-baptisms in the tens of thousands. In Belgium, which has been hit hard by the church sex scandals, de-baptism requests in the French-speaking region alone soared to roughly 2,000 in 2010, compared to 66 two years earlier and in Britain, a de-baptism certificate offered as a joke by the National Secular Society became more serious after tens of thousands of people downloaded it. 

References: Huffington Post

7.    Dr. Paul Kurtz Passes Away

Paul Kurtz, American skeptic, philosopher, and founder of the modern secular-humanist movement, passed away on 20 October 2012. He was 86 years old. In 1982, Kurtz was editor of the Humanist magazine of the American Humanist Association (AHA).  Unhappy with the direction of the AHA and its failure - as he saw it - to stand up to conservative Christians, Kurtz left the AHA and formed a new organization, the Council of Democratic and Ethical Secular Humanists (CODESH), later simplified to the Council for Secular Humanism (CSH). Kurtz was the recipient of numerous awards in the US and international freethought communities, including the 1999 International Humanist Award from the IHEU and the 2000 International Rationalist Award from Rationalist International.

References: NY Times

8.    Swiss Public School Teacher Valentin Abgottspon Vindicated In Court After Being Fired For Refusing To Promote Religion

In 2010, public school teacher Valentin Abgottspon was dismissed from his job in a public Swiss middle school in canton Valais for complaining about the Christian proselytizing required of him in the school’s class curricula as well as for the school’s mandatory decorating of all classrooms with religious symbols, in clear contravention of the Swiss Federal constitution which guarantees religious freedom. In late 2012, the court ruled in Abgottspon's favor, saying he should not have been fired (although no damages or other legal actions were ordered by the court).

References: AAI website, World Radio

9. Organization of Islamic Cooperation Abandons Attempt to get UN to Recognize Blasphemy Bans as a ‘Religious Right’

Each year from 1998 to 2011, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), an international body representing 57 Islamic nations, had submitted a non-binding resolution to the UN General Assembly to ban blasphemy as an international ‘religious right’. The resolution regularly won majorities in UN rights bodies and at the UN General Assembly every year, but was strongly opposed by Western states, which saw it as a potential threat to free speech. However, support steadily fell, to just over 50% by 2010, and the OIC opted for a weaker resolution against intolerance towards all religions in 2011, which was passed unanimously by the UN General Assembly. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary general of the OIC, said his 57-nation body would not try again for United Nations support to ban insults to religion, but appealed for states to apply hate-speech laws concerning Islam, saying “Western opposition has made it impossible for Muslim states to obtain a ban on blasphemy, including anti-Islamic videos and cartoons that have touched off deadly riots.”

References: Reuters

10. Catholic Church Refuses to Reform Anti-Woman, Anti-Gay Stance

We have to hand it to the Catholic Church: for an organization that seems to generate a never-ending stream of reasons and incidents that exposes it as a corrupt, hypocritical and criminally fascistic den of clueless and power-hungry old men that has long deserved to be eradicated from the world as much as polio or AIDS, they seem amazingly talented at finding others to blame and scapegoat for their crimes. It would be impossible to outline all the stories, just in 2012, of all of the negligence, abuse, and atrocities that can be 'credited' to the church.  But together, they make a powerful case for adding the church to our 2010 ‘Top 10’ list.

2012 opened with stories on the ‘Vatican Butler’ scandal, where the Pope’s ex-butler (He has a butler? Who knew?) was arrested by Vatican police (They have a police force? Who knew?) for disseminating ‘classified’ Vatican documents to outside parties.  Meanwhile, Catholic nuns continue to be a pain in the Holy See’s side as the Leadership Conference of Women Religious resisted reform demands by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the “Catholic Department of Inquisitions”) to stop being independent and just echo the Vatican line on women, gays, and contraception. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops inserted itself into the US presidential election and tried to turn a health regulation requiring that all employers include free contraception in their employee health plans into a “religious freedom” issue (despite polls showing over 98% of fertile Catholic women, married or otherwise, using birth control). The world was appalled when a pregnant woman in Ireland was allowed to die of septicaemia (blood loss) rather than abort a foetus to save her life, the doctor citing the country’s Catholic roots as his excuse. The church ended the year by claiming that gay marriage was ‘a threat to world peace’ and an Italian priest, presumably with full knowledge of the Vatican nearby, published an article that said women were partly to blame for encouraging domestic violence by failing to clean their houses and cook properly and for wearing tight and provocative clothing.

One church story that did not come out in 2012 was how the Vatican would seriously address its paedophilia, problem, which continues to ensnare children on every continent.

References: NY Times, Huffington Post, National Catholic Register, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Salon [1], Salon [2], Reuters


A more detailed look at some of the issues and stories in this list will be included in the upcoming edition of Secular World magazine.