Freethought Report 2016

I always class myself as a rationalist-atheist-humanist-secularist, and support as many such-minded organisations through subcription, membership and participation as practically possible. Sometimes I can come across a bit luke-warm when the campaign of the day is explicitly anti-theist, anti-religion, preferring to consider more nuanced arguments and to remind humanists that religious theists are humans too. I tend to reject the binary received-wisdom of critical-thinking focussed on finding fault with what we’re against. I’m defined by what I’m for.

So let me say without qualification that the Freethought Report 2016 is an unmitigated good. Now in it’s fifth year, it is a tremendous piece of work to compile and publish in collaboration with all manner of international organisations through the UN.

It’s all too easy to abbreviate the applicable UN rights as freedom of religious belief, an impression compounded in acronyms, handles and hash-tags with variations on “FoRB”. The full UN mandate covers freedoms of expression, thought, religion and belief, including non-religious belief. The shortest possible form being FoRoB or FoR&B maybe, that is

Freedom of Religion and/or Belief.

Ahmed Shaheed’s foreword highlight’s this point that we do the non-religious a disservice if we overlook the inclusive nature of the freedoms defined.

The positive side of what we non-religious might believe has been fraught with the fact that the word belief is itself contingent. Saying the contingencies are in science and objective evidence is fine for 20:20 hindsight, but can’t fully do justice to all our human futures. The blurrier contingencies of more subjective beliefs and values are often left unspoken but in any event, intellectual debate is no substitute for committed action.

The Freethought Report is unflinching in documenting all cases of abuses of free thought and expression and, by totting-up scorecards, presents national governments and local activists with clear and inescapable evidence in a public UN context. It takes a great deal of bravery and determined effort to produce.

The report has previously been available electronically, but now Freethought Report 2016 is fully indexed and searchable on-line. There is no hinding place for delinquent governments. Well done to Bob Churchill, the IHEU team and all their international collaborators.

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