Jan 16, 2016 7:30 PM GMT
The Freedom of Thought Report is an annual survey on discrimination and persecution against non-religious people in countries around the world....
Excerpted (though I may add some color or bold for random emphasis) from
Freedom of Thought 2015: A Global Report on Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists, and the Non-religious; Their Human Rights and Legal Status, was created by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).
The International Humanist and Ethical Union is the worldwide democratic body for Humanist, atheist, rationalist, secular, ethical culture, and freethought organizations. Its mission is to represent and support the global Humanist movement, and to build a world in which human rights are respected and all can live a life of dignity.
United States of America
Constitution and government
The United States receives a relatively good rating in this Report, in consequence of the nation’s strong constitutional protections in favour of freedom of thought, religion or belief and freedom of expression, which are usually upheld in practice. There is also a deep-rooted cultural emphasis on individual freedom.
However, those very freedoms, and openness to challenge, debate and due process — combined with the sometimes also very strong, deeply-rooted Christian conservativism of some Americans — means that secular, Humanist and civil liberties groups find themselves facing a continual battle to preserve the inherent secularism of the constitution from frequently recurring challenges, often involving state authorities or officials, or individuals, citing “religious freedom” in an attempt to bypass separation of church and state, to enforce particular religious beliefs in the public sphere, or in some way “establish” religion. Thanks to founding constitutional principles, these battles are usually won on the side of secularism in the longer term.
The constitution, “free exercise” and “establishment”
The US Constitution is often considered to be one of the world’s first secular documents. The secular tradition in US law comes in part from the diverse religious makeup of the original colonies and the enlightenment idea that no one religion should come to be dominant in politics.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
The Amendment has two clauses directly relating to the relationship between state and religion. The “Free Exercise Clause”, protects the rights of people to hold whatever religious beliefs he or she wants, and to exercise that belief. This protection has also been extended to the right to non-belief.
The “Establishment Clause” forbids the establishment of a state church and prevents the government, both state and federal, from favoring any one religious doctrine. This is often called the separation clause, referring to Thomas Jefferson's description of “a wall of separation between church and state”.
The Constitution also prevents religious requirements for public office with Article 6 stating: “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States”.
Broadly speaking, these clauses combine to create an largely open society in which all people are afforded the same legal rights to practice religion or not; convert from one religion to another, or reconvert altogether; to express beliefs regarding religion; and to participate in all areas of public life.
“Under God” and “In God we Trust”
Despite the long history of the secular constitution, the Cold War Era in the 1950s saw increased paranoia towards atheism because of its association with Communism. In 1951 the Catholic group “The Knights of Columbus” successfully lobbied to have the words “Under God” added to the pledge of allegiance. The pledge is said during the opening of sessions of Congress, the beginning of numerous state and local government meetings and at the beginning of a school day. It is also popular during the July 4th festivities.
Similarly, the United states Motto was established in 1956 as “In God We Trust” and can be found on all paper currency in the US. There have been numerous unsuccessful campaigns since the 1950s, by secular and religious minority groups alike, to secularise both the pledge and the motto. These have included numerous supreme and appeals court cases, the most recent being in April 2014.
The Don’t Say the Pledge campaign
by the American Humanist Association has had some success in 2015, for example establishing precedents against the enforced recitation of the pledge by students in school settings.