Secular Groups Meet with State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom

August 21, 2012

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of joining leaders from several prominent secular organizations — the American Humanist Association, International Humanist and Ethical Union, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, and the Secular Coalition for America — to represent the Center for Inquiry at a meeting with the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom (IRF) in Washington D.C. 

The exchange, hosted by Ambassador-at-Large Suzan Johnson Cook and her staff, was unique in that it focused solely on the secular community (atheists, agnostics, humanists, skeptics, freethinkers) and its perspectives on religious freedom. We presented the IRF with a 40-page collaborative report containing information on laws used by governments around the world to restrict the rights to freedom of belief and expression, which are protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and specific cases of governments punishing atheists, religious minorities, and dissidents for speaking out on religion. One prominent example we cited was jailed Indonesian atheist Alexander Aan.

We were glad to learn that the IRF firmly believes religious freedom includes the liberty to reject and express doubts about religion, and that it is dedicated to advocating for this position in the global arena. However, we urged the IRF to consider placing closer attention, especially in their annual reports, on free speech-related discrimination against atheists, religious minorities, and dissidents.

Fortunately, it seems this was just the first of many meetings to come between IRF and representatives of the secular community. I will keep you updated as we move forward. In the meantime, I encourage you to read about the the IRF and its work, and follow Ambassador Johnson Cook on Facebook and Twitter.