China’s Muslim Concentration Camps Represent an Affront to Humanist Values

September 10, 2018

CFI stands proudly in support of freedom of speech, freedom of inquiry, and freedom of religion, even when we don’t agree with the ideas that others may come to from such freedoms. In the United States, we are seeing the notion of freedom of religion being twisted from freedom of belief into a privilege to grant exemptions from generally applicable laws. Bakers say they don’t have to make wedding cakes for people they don’t like. Government officials say they don’t have issue wedding licenses if they don’t approve of the relationship. And pharmacists say they don’t have to fill prescriptions if they find your reason for needing the drugs to be immoral. And all in the name of “religious freedom.”

But freedom of religion has a much deeper, much more fundamental meaning, making it one of the most critical freedoms that we are honor bound, as freethinkers, to protect. If it means anything, it must include the right to believe in whatever one chooses, free from government oppression. It simply is no valid function of the government to police our internal beliefs, whether we believe in no gods, One True God, or a whole pantheon of deities. Until our actions infringe on others and their rights, the government has no place in prohibiting us from worshiping Jesus, or Allah, or Shiva. It is central to our nature as free humans that our right to believe in Odin, or Cthulhu, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster is not subject to government control.

That’s why CFI views blasphemy and apostasy laws as abhorrent. Such laws use the power of the government to defend a particular religion. Equally toxic are government actions that seek to target members of particular faiths. What is happening currently in China should terrify all freethinkers. Reports have emerged of the government rounding up the Muslim Uyghur population and incarcerating them in camps.

The full scale of this assault on human rights is unknown, as China is not famous for its hospitality towards journalists seeking to report on its internal affairs. But from what we do know, the extent is staggering. Some reports have the camps built to house a million residents. Others claim that already two million of the eight million Uyghurs are detained in the camps. This is a human rights violation of stupendous proportions.

Reportedly, the concentration camps are called Concentration Education Transformation Centers. The name of one such camp, according to the Washington Post, is the “Loving Kindness School.” But the pleasant names belie an Orwellian nightmare. While the government claims to be clamping down on separatists and terrorists, it has turned into a campaign against religious and cultural identity.

A secular government, such as that promised by the First Amendment, does not permit official preference for one religion over another, or for religion in general over nonreligion. The religious Right in the United States is seeking to impose its religious agenda onto all Americans, and with the likely appointment of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is salivating at its opportunity to do so. Elsewhere, Islamic governments are using blasphemy laws to persecute atheists, and CFI’s Secular Rescue campaign is working to help as many people suffering in that situation as we can. The imprisonment of people in concentration camps because of their religion or ethnicity is an affront to the most basic values of secular humanism.

The terrible stories coming out of China, and also those of the abuse of the Rohingya in Myanmar should remind us of our duty to oppose government tyranny and abuse wherever it raises its ugly face. Authorities around the world have no place seeking to enforce religious orthodoxy, whether that enforcement takes the form of persecuting nonbelievers or believers. Just as religious groups must stand in solidarity with us when it comes to protecting nonbelievers from government oppression, so secular humanists must stand shoulder to shoulder with religious minorities when they face persecution for their beliefs.