Robert P. George, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and Hannah Rosenthal, a USCIRF commissioner, have penned an op-ed for the USA Today detailing various examples of state persecution of atheists and calling on countries to stop criminalizing the act of denying the existence of God:
In the Russian city of Stavropol, Viktor Krasnov, a 38-year-old man, faces trial, charged with publicly insulting Orthodox Church believers by supporting atheism in social media. For proclaiming in a heated Internet exchange “there is no God,” Krasnov was confined for a month to a local hospital for psychiatric evaluation. If convicted under Russia’s blasphemy law, enacted in 2013 and making it illegal to “insult the religious convictions or feelings of citizens,” he may spend up to a year in prison.
During the Soviet era, Russia infamously held people in psychiatric wards and put them on trial, not for denying a deity, but affirming one. Either way, such punishment violates the universal human right of freedom of religion or belief. This fundamental liberty includes the right to believe or not to believe and live one’s life accordingly.
Russia, however, is not the only country where atheists face punishment. As noted in country chapters of its Annual Report, released on Monday, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), on which we serve, has found no shortage of nations that perpetrate or permit their persecution. It is time for our country to shine a powerful spotlight on these abuses.
George and Rosenthal continue:
Simply stated, societies that fail to protect the right to freedom of conscience of atheists rarely stop there.
It is time to send a message to every nation: Persecution of atheists and theists alike is equally reprehensible and must be condemned. Religious freedom is the precious birthright of humanity and must be honored and upheld for believers and skeptics alike.
You can read the full article here.