by American Humanist Association Executive Director Roy Speckhardt
It's time to reconsider recent reasons for optimism regarding worldwide religious freedom. In September I wrote about how the Libyan embassy attack taught the world that true religious freedom requires not just that people are able to believe as they so choose, but it also demands the ability to be free from imposed belief and be able to question beliefs as one sees fit. Some leaders like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon capitalized on the teachable moment to show humanity that while words can hurt, they never justify violence or oppression. But unfortunately, violence in the Middle East and elsewhere continues the long-running tendency to link blood and blasphemy. We haven't outgrown the outdated attitudes from ancient civilizations where people like Anaxagoras were condemned to death for denying or questioning the existence of gods and a law was adopted that denounced " those who do not believe in the divine beings or who teach doctrines about things in the sky."
It seems as though many in the world are far more eager to use religion as a tool for consolidating power than are interested in protecting religious freedom and free speech. Countries such as Pakistan, Greece, and Egypt are imprisoning those who dare to speak their mind about religion and belief in general. This undemocratic crackdown on speech is worrying not only because it threatens the concept of religious freedom, but because real human beings around the world are suffering from the effects of this renewed tyrannical campaign that goes on where the attempts to impose blasphemy laws at the UN left off in 2011.
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