It’s going to be a great weekend.
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 hate, Key challenges to freedom of religion or belief, Getting the message out: Challenges to news and opinion journalism, Should Humanism matter in politics, and The difficult case of incitement to hatred. Heiner 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.