Chair East London Humanists Paul Kaufman believes in freedom of religion and belief


- Credit: Archant

A highlight of my summer was joining over a thousand delegates from 60 countries at the triennial World Humanist Congress which this year took place in Oxford ( The theme was the timely one of freedom of expression and belief.

Some of the most moving moments were provided by activists who risk their lives on a daily basis in the struggle for progress and enlightenment in the most hostile environments.

A young Pakistani woman described her work in that country against all odds to educate and empower women.

Another young Humanist, from Uganda, explained the difficulties she is up against in her attempts to help in the development of that country. She has to compete for hearts and minds against wealthy evangelicals, many from America, who are able to exert influence by providing desperately needed food and other material goods. They condemn her as ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ for her atheist views. One of her simple but important messages is that people must rely on their own power to improve their lives rather than rely on God to do this for them.

Out of many deserving candidates, the Freedom of Expression Award was given by Congress to Asif Mohiuddin, a young man from Bangladesh. Asif has had to flee that country after he was nearly killed by religious fundamentalists for expressing atheist views on the internet. He shares the award with a fellow blogger, Ahmed Haider, to whom it was given posthumously. Ahmed was hacked to death in Dhaka last year for similar activities.

Delegates were reminded that there are still many countries in the world where blasphemy remains a serious crime, sometimes punishable by death. It brought home the importance that we treasure and defend the hard won freedoms that we enjoy in this country. We must also be alert to the risk of these being eroded. Humanists firmly believe in freedom of religion and belief. We also strongly support the equally important principle that this freedom does not come with the right not to have your religion or belief criticised, questioned, or even ridiculed. More from Paul Kaufman

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