Using data to combat religious persecution

The Freedom of Thought Report


  • Niels De Nutte
  • Anton Van Dyck


humanism, freedom of religion or belief, religious persecution, persecution, freedom of thought


Since 2012, the non-governmental organization Humanists International (HI) has published annually the Freedom of Thought Report, which looks at how non-religious individuals – not to be confused with the non-affiliated – are treated within any given state. It focuses on legal discrimination and restrictions on freedom of thought, belief and expression. This report, which has been presented at the United Nations General Assembly and at the European Parliament, ranks almost 200 countries by assessing them in four categories, which encompass the realms of government, education, society and freedom of expression. In the present paper, we evaluate the report’s usefulness in impacting policy initiatives promoting the freedom of religion or belief (FoRB). Examples of its use in policy-making initiatives are provided. As this dataset examines the criminalization of apostasy and blasphemy, subsequent human rights activism by HI and other organizations benefits not just the non-religious but also minority religious groups. The report’s impact on other human rights organizations and their campaigns suggests that research on FoRB can increase the resilience of religious or non-religious groups facing persecution.