‘Religion’ still occupies and maintains a position of formal and informal privilege in many current societies. It retains these privileges despite the increasing numbers of people who label themselves ‘non-religious’. There is also evidence that overtly non-religious people are being persecuted due to the continuation of these privileges. This paper will examine such treatment of the non-religious in the context of human rights instruments and laws. It lays out the international law case for the rights of the non-religious. It also discusses the extent to which state actors have or have not ignored human rights standards in their persecution or deprivileging of non-religious people. This paper will proceed through a three-step analysis. Step 1 is to examine the aspirational Universal Declaration of Human Rights
(UDHR) in relation to the non-religious. The relevant sections of the UDHR and interpretations that they have received will be discussed. Step 2 is to do the same with the binding International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
(ICCPR). Finally, Step 3 is to give examples of lower-level and local laws, where I shall examine the extent to which individual countries’ laws and practices toward non-religious people support or contradict the treaty commitments that those countries have made. The continuation in coercion/persecution cases suggests that something is amiss with human rights protections being provided to the non-religious. If we are to create social structures that are more inclusive of the non-religious and to advocate for non-religious rights, it is necessary to examine the societal power and privilege still held by ‘religion’. It is hoped that this article can inform and encourage further similar engagements among sociologists, religious studies scholars, activists and lay-people interested in the treatment of non-religious peoples.
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