The Bishop of Clifton has called on Catholics to stand up for persecuted atheists around the world.
In an article for the Universe, Bishop Declan Lang, who is also chair of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference Department for International Affairs, said: “The Catholic community in England and Wales has a role to play in ensuring that the government maintains this position and continues to speak out when people are imprisoned, tortured or killed on account of their atheism.
“Doing so will not only be a practical expression of solidarity with those suffering the most appalling persecution, but will also promote freedom of religion or belief as a universal right to the benefit of all.”
Bishop Declan Lang based his article around the case of the atheist blogger, Ahmed Rajib Haider, in Bangladesh who was murdered by a mob two years ago for stating his beliefs.
Bishop Lang wrote: “Since then Bangladesh’s atheists have lived and died in fear. During 2015 at least five more were murdered. Avijit Roy, an author who wrote extensively on atheism and science, was hacked to death as he left a book fair with his wife.
“Weeks later Washiqur Rahman, an IT manager who blogged in his spare time, was stabbed in broad daylight. In the Northern city of Sylhet Ananta Bijoy Das was killed on his way to work, shortly after being invited to address a high profile press freedom event in Europe.
“As demands grew for the Bangladeshi government to act, gangs burst into the home of blogger Niloy Chakrabarti and the office of publisher Faisal Abedin Deepan, killing them both in the same horrific manner. All of the men had been named on lists of prominent atheists circulated by extremist groups and most had already received death threats. Several other high profile atheists narrowly escaped attacks and dozens fled the country.”
The bishop went on to stress that our compassion “must not be limited to people of faith.”
He said: “Across the world Christians can be found playing a central role in defence of other faith communities, from the Yazidis in Northern Iraq who face unspeakable atrocities at the hands of Daesh, to Muslim minorities in parts of South East Asia who suffer discrimination and hostility from Buddhist fundamentalists. However our compassion must never be limited only to people of faith.
“The persecution of atheists is a grave violation of human dignity throughout the world. In Saudi Arabia, where “calling for atheist thought in any form” is defined as an act of terrorism, writers have been flogged after publicly promoting humanist or secularist ideas. Most recently the Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh was sentenced to eight years in prison and eight hundred lashes, for publishing work considered to be atheistic.”
Bishop Lang said that when confronted with these injustices Catholics cannot simply “stand by” pointing out that “history has shown time and time again that when one minority group is oppressed with impunity, others soon face the same fate.”