Freedom of Thought and Expression
Chris Street of Atheism UK & Dorset Humanists was one of the 1,000+ delegates from 67 countries at the World Humanist Congress in Oxford.
The Oxford Declaration on Freedom of Thought and Expression
The 2014 World Humanist Congress which met in Oxford, UK, on 8-10 August 2014, adopted a declaration on freedom of thought and expression:
All around the world and at all times, it is freedom of thought and freedom of expression that have proved the most essential conditions for human flourishing, but every generation must face new threats to these fundamental freedoms.
Knowing this, we maintain:
The right to freedom of thought and belief is one and the same right for all. The human right articulated in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and elaborated elsewhere is and should be a single right, indivisible, protecting the dignity and freedom of all people by protecting their right to their personal beliefs, whatever those beliefs, religious or non-religious. As Article 7 of the Declaration says, ‘All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.’
No one anywhere should ever be forced into or out of a belief. Freedom of thought implies the right to develop, hold, examine and manifest our beliefs without coercion, and to express opinions and a worldview whether religious or non-religious, without fear of coercion. It includes the right to change our views or to reject beliefs previously held, or previously ascribed. The pressure to conform to ideologies of the state or to doctrines of religion is a tyranny. Laws that prescribe or criminalise beliefs contravene human dignity and must be abolished. Every citizen of every state has the right to demand the repeal of such laws, and all states should support those, wherever they are, who demand that their social freedoms and personal liberty be upheld.
The right to freedom of expression is global in its scope. The human right articulated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes the right to ‘seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’. No parochial nationalism or state insecurity should prevent the global human community from fulfilling the promise of our new technologies, our mass media, our social media, and our personal access to transnational networks. States should invest adequate resources to allow their citizens’ participation in this global conversation.
There is no right not to be offended, or not to hear contrary opinions. Respect for people’s freedom of belief does not imply any duty or requirement to respect those beliefs. The expression of opposition to any beliefs, including in the form of satire, ridicule or condemnation in all media and forms is vital to critical discourse and any restraint that is exercised in this expression must be in accordance of article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, namely to protect the rights and freedoms of others. The best response to the expression of a view we disagree with is to reply to it. Violence and censorship are never legitimate responses. All laws that criminalise language on grounds of ‘blasphemy’ or of offence to beliefs and values impede human freedom and should be abolished.
States must not restrict thought and expression merely to protect the government from criticism. States that criminalise criticism of government policies or officials as treasonous or seditious, or as threats to security, are not “strong governments” championing the best interests of the public, but censorious bullies exercising tyranny in their own interests. States should ensure in the law of the land, in their education systems, and in the conduct of their national life generally, that freedom of thought and expression are actively promoted and pursued to the real benefit of every member of society.
Freedom of belief is absolute but the freedom to act on a belief is not. As responsible members of a community, we accept that our freedom to act must sometimes be restricted, if and only if our actions would undermine the rights and freedoms of others. Freedom of belief cannot legitimise overriding the principles of non-discrimination and equality before the law. These balances can be hard to strike but with a focus on freedom and human dignity, we believe legislators and judiciaries can strike them in a progressive manner.
We assert the principles of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and secularism as providing the firmest foundation for the development of open societies where freedom of thought and expression will be protected and promoted.
We commit ourselves in all our work to uphold and promote existing rights to freedom of thought and expression within the international human rights framework and to resist national and international restrictions on the right of individuals to think for themselves freely and to openly express their views without fear.
We urge each of our member organizations and humanists worldwide to uphold these values in their own lives; to promote in their communities greater public understanding of the rights to freedom of thought and freedom of expression for all; to urge their governments to promote these values; and to join with humanists and others globally in defending and advancing them to the benefit of all humanity.
AAI Position 2013 Statement – Freedom of expression
CREATED by AAI ON SATURDAY, 16 MARCH 2013 21:06
Freedom of expression is an essential human right (see Note 1) and a foundational principle of a free society.
There is an inherent conflict between freedom of expression and the desire of some religious people to have their beliefs treated with deference. Commonly, restrictions on freedom of expression are sought through anti-blasphemy laws, laws against “incitement to religious hatred” or the use of violence and intimidation against those who are claimed to cause religious offence.
Given the diversity of religious worldviews, offence is the inevitable outcome of the critical assessment of religious or irreligious perspectives. As a subjective concept, offence is a not a reasonable basis for restricting freedom of expression; to do so would essentially render freedom of expression meaningless and limit the critical discussion of ideas to whichever perspective happens to be supported by the legal system or physical strength present in any country.
Further, restrictions on freedom of expression on the basis of religious offence privilege religious views above other types of views – such restrictions provide a shield against critical analysis and comment, yet no rational basis exists for protecting religious views when other contentious social or political views are not protected.
If a society is to value and respect all its citizens it must unequivocally stand against those who seek to limit offence through violence, intimidation or legislation. No ideology, religious or otherwise, should be permitted to dictate that certain views are exempt from scrutiny, critical analysis, comment, satire or mockery. A view that cannot withstand such examination is not credible and should be re-considered by the holder, not protected by laws or defended with violence or intimidation.
Any offence caused by views being challenged, criticised or even mocked – whether a person is religious or not – is the negligible, but vital, price of human freedom.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.
Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: 1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. 2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. 3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.
Source: Atheist Alliance International
Freedom of Thought Report
Chris Street of Atheism UK Council recommends the Freedom of Thought Report from International Humanist & Ethical Union (IHEU). The report:-
- Highlights individual stories of atheists, humanists, secularists, freethinkers and other non-religious people worldwide.
- Leverages criticism against countries on human rights grounds.
- Opens up the discussion of persecution against the non-religious.
Got a Submission for the Freedom of Thought report? Submit it here.