It’s going to be a great weekend.

I'm so freakin excited

I’m so freakin excited

Two of my best friends are getting married in Oxford AND I’ll be covering the World Humanist Congress, which this year focuses on freedom of thought and expression, AKA my life. Total estimated sleep time: 0 hours.

Back in 2011 (when the International Humanist and Ethical Union hosted the last WHC in Oslo) I helped launch Free Speech Debate in Oxford. Some of our original advisors to the project, including Richard Dawkins and Jo Glanville, will be speaking at WHC this weekend along with my former colleagues at Index on Censorship Mike Harris and Padraig Reidy.

When I left Index for RNS last summer, my focus shifted from freedom of expression at its broadest to religious freedom and freedom of expression concerning thought and belief. I’ve been pleased to see how much overlap exists between the freedom of expression community and those working on freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief in London and abroad.

Some of the greatest advocates for these rights I’ve met in the past year have been non-religious groups, a good example being the Center for Inquiry. As I mentioned in this week’s Religious Freedom Recap, CFI’s director of public policy Michael De Dora was recently elected president of the U.N.’s NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

CFI also has a Campaign for Free Expression to highlight cases of individuals, religious or otherwise, persecuted for expressing their beliefs. One of the earliest cases they tracked was that of Asif Mohiuddin, an atheist blogger from Bangladesh who was stabbed and arrested for writing blog posts critical of Islam.  Mohiuddin will share his story at WHC Saturday morning.

Free and functioning societies require both freedom of and freedom from religion. Yet we know that 76 percent of people live in countries with high levels of social and government restrictions on religion and in 13 countries atheists face the death penalty for declaring their doubts.

WHC bills itself as attracting “atheist, humanist and other non-religious organisations and individuals from around the world.” Given this year’s theme I hope to see a few religious gatecrashers stirring up new debates and enriching the conversation as well.

From the weekend’s panel lineup, I’m most looking forward to Manifestations of hateKey challenges to freedom of religion or beliefGetting the message out: Challenges to news and opinion journalismShould Humanism matter in politics, and The difficult case of incitement to hatredHeiner Bielefeldt, the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, will also speak about key challenges he faces in the role (spoiler: the list will be long).

Tickets are gone, but I’m sure I won’t be the only one tweeting from #WHC2014. Follow along and join the conversation online.



  1. Henry Chambers

    You write,
    >>>Free and functioning societies require both freedom of and freedom from religion.
    The “freedom from” might be idealized by people without religion who are so oversensitive to be offended by seeing the slightest sign of religion, but it is the opposite for those for whom serving God is the most important thing in their lives. Societies who have been very well functioning have not banned religion from the public square. That would be very intolerant. Meet on the public square. Disagree. Use arguments. But don’t ban freedom of religion and freedom of expression, or your society will become a pretty dark place with enormous numbers of people being pushed out of sight, and much religion robbed from what is essential to it. Any examples of societies with freedom from religion that are functioning very well? Tell me, I want to see them firsthand.

    • The problem is you seem to be under the impression that your religious beliefs should belong to everyone. That no other beliefs should be heard. Either that or you just chose to blatantly misrepresent the humanist position to suit your own agenda.

      Freedom from religion means that one does not have to bear insult, marginalization or discrimination because their belief is different from your own. That religion is not entangled with the apparatus of government.

      God’s law may be what you find appropriate for your life but nobody should be under any kind of compulsion under the law to do the same. Government endorsement of religious belief means exclusion of various faiths and sects which do not belong to what is being endorsed. It ALWAYS leads to discriminatory unfree actions.

  2. Henry Chambers

    Did you read what I wrote?
    I am strongly in favor of a public square where people of all persuasions meet, speak, discuss, debate.
    Freedom from religion people seem to only want humanists to have that right and to shut up everybody else.
    In a freedom from religion community the only ones who can be themselves are the ones who have no religion. That is treating religious people as acceptable in the public square only if they behave as if they are non-religious people. That is intolerant and wrong. Do you know an example of a society with freedom from religion where you would be better off?

  3. Yes. I read what you wrote. You are making a strawman point and telling outright fictions.

    You are falsely accusing humanists of banning religion from the public square. The reality is that it is the religious people who do this. In calling for their religious views to be given public acknowledgement they intentionally exclude faiths besides their own. When religion “is kept out of the public” as you accuse, it is because the given expression is exclusionary, offensive to other faiths or gives an impression of government endorsement.

    People like yourself only talk of religion when referring to your own faith and none others. Respect to other views is usually not in the cards when expressing their faith. One cannot respect religious beliefs unless one is willing to respect all of them or those with no belief at all. Humanism and secularism seek to respect all views by not showing favoritism to any. Better to embrace all or embrace none than to be exclusionary.

    “You have confused a war on religion with not getting everything you want.” –Jon Stewart

    “Do you know an example of a society with freedom from religion where you would be better off?”

    The United States. The only country with a constitution which explicitly excludes religion from consideration when making and implementing its laws. Whose public offices are banned from being beholden to any given church, religious group or sect.

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