Humanism Now

12. Emma Wadsworth-Jones on Humanists International's Freedom of Thought Report 2023

December 17, 2023 Season 1 Episode 12
12. Emma Wadsworth-Jones on Humanists International's Freedom of Thought Report 2023
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Humanism Now
12. Emma Wadsworth-Jones on Humanists International's Freedom of Thought Report 2023
Dec 17, 2023 Season 1 Episode 12

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"When we're upholding secularism, we're making sure that that is freedom of religion or belief for all, and not just for the non-religious to be safe" - Emma Wadsworth-Jones

On this week's Humanism Now we are delighted to be joined by Emma Wadsworth-Jones, Casework & Campaigns Manager Of Humanists International and principle editor of the Freedom of Thought Report. The FOTR assesses every country in the world on the basis of human rights and the legal status with regard to humanists, atheists, and the non-religious. Emma shares the key findings for 2023, reasons why protecting freethought matters and positive examples of promoting secularism globally.

In addition, Lola & Nicole join the panel this week to discuss the further proposed changes to UK visa requirements and it's impact on families and whether the UK is a secular country.  Plus we share our favourite xmas songs for your playlist!

Episode references:

About Emma Wadsworth Jones
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🐦 @humanistsint
#️⃣ #FOTR2023

Emma's references:

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Send us a Text Message.

"When we're upholding secularism, we're making sure that that is freedom of religion or belief for all, and not just for the non-religious to be safe" - Emma Wadsworth-Jones

On this week's Humanism Now we are delighted to be joined by Emma Wadsworth-Jones, Casework & Campaigns Manager Of Humanists International and principle editor of the Freedom of Thought Report. The FOTR assesses every country in the world on the basis of human rights and the legal status with regard to humanists, atheists, and the non-religious. Emma shares the key findings for 2023, reasons why protecting freethought matters and positive examples of promoting secularism globally.

In addition, Lola & Nicole join the panel this week to discuss the further proposed changes to UK visa requirements and it's impact on families and whether the UK is a secular country.  Plus we share our favourite xmas songs for your playlist!

Episode references:

About Emma Wadsworth Jones
🔗 Humanists International - People
📧 Contact HI
🐦 @humanistsint
#️⃣ #FOTR2023

Emma's references:

Upcoming events:

Support the Show.

Support us on Patreon

Click here to submit questions, nominate guest & topics or sponsor the show.

Follow Humanism Now @HumanismNowPod
X (Twitter)
YouTube
Instagram
TikTok

Follow Central London Humanists @LondonHumanists
Centrallondonhumanists.org.uk
Meetup
Facebook
X (Twitter)
YouTube

CLH are an official partner group of Humanists UK and an associate member of Humanists International

James H:

get to film every wherewebazaar next in stilts rally. Hello everyone, and welcome to episode 12 of Humanism Now the podcast from the Central London Humanists. For anyone actively involved or just curious about all things humanism, I'm your host, james Hodgson Now. This week saw the publication of the Freedom of Thought report by Humanist International. The report assesses every country in the world on the basis of human rights and illegal status with regards to humanists, atheists and non-religious people. Later we'll have our interview with Emma Wadsworth-Jones, the coordinator of the report, but before that I'm delighted to be joined by two of our regular co-hosts here at Humanism Now. Nicole from Lester Humanists Welcome. How are you doing today?

Nicole S:

Hello, I'm doing very well, thank you. Thanks for having me again.

James H:

My pleasure, and have you been having any Christmas activities up there with the Lester Humanists?

Nicole S:

We haven't had any official Christmas-y ones, although we did have Mint's pies at our last showing of the Humanist lecture, which was very nice. But no official Christmas activities for us this year, next year hopefully.

James H:

And my colleague from the Central London Humanists and the co-leader of the Association of Black Humanists, lola. Good to see you here.

Lola T:

Hi. Good evening James, hi Nicole.

James H:

And Lola, I know you joined us at our Christmas party last night with about 50 other members at the Central London Humanists. How was the event?

Lola T:

That was at last. It was great. From beginning to the end I laughed. I can't remember the last time I laughed so much. Yes, I look forward to next year already.

James H:

Yeah, definitely. There were lots of requests to run that all Another comedy night all over again. So, yeah, thank you to everybody who came along. I know there are a few listeners who we met there. It really was a fantastic night and thank you to everyone who supported it and to all our acts, including Lisa May, who was on the podcast just a few weeks ago. Before we start our icebreaker question this week is topical. I wondered what's your favourite Christmas song? Who wants to have a go first, nicole? What would you rate as the top Christmas song?

Nicole S:

I think it's quite a difficult question because there are a lot of good ones. There are a lot of terrible ones out there as well, don't get me wrong, but I think there was a real peak of really good Christmas songs much earlier, about 50 years ago. My favourite, I think, would have to be Christmas Baby, please Come Home, originally by Darlene Love. I think that is still the best version. It's been covered a lot, but it's absolutely gorgeous and it's tinged with a lot of sadness. Christmas, while it's a time for warmth and happiness and family, it can bring up a lot of complicated feelings. I think in many people, even people who really like Christmas, there's a lot of sadness associated with this time of year. So I think having such a gorgeous Christmas song that is bittersweet and melancholy, I think that's really important and it just sounds great.

James H:

Fantastic. I think that's the appeal of Fairy Tale of New York as well, which has always been a standout. Lola, how about you? What's your favourite Christmas song?

Lola T:

I think it will have to be. I don't know if I'm guessing correctly. I think it's called Drummer Boy or something along that line. Little Drummer Boy, yeah, and it's because of my dad, Even though it was in Nigeria. My dad was big on Christmas and from the 1st of December his number one Christmas song will be Drummer Boy and we will have to enjoy it throughout December several times a day. So because of my dad, it's my favourite.

James H:

Oh, that's such a lovely story. Thanks for sharing and yeah, it was quite a challenge putting together the playlist for the party last night to try and find some modern Christmas songs. You're right, nicole, I know there are too many, but I can make a recommendation. I found that CeeLo Green of Niles Barkley has produced a Christmas album and I have to say it's actually fantastic. And if you're going to pick one track, his cover of Run Run Rudolph might be my new favourite Christmas song.

Nicole S:

I'm definitely looking forward to hearing that, because I hadn't even heard of it at all. I hadn't heard he'd done a.

James H:

Christmas album. But you're right, it was hard to find anything in the last 30 years. Now, before we move on to our interview, lola, I know you've been very busy looking into some of the government's new proposals. We've covered immigration policy or immigration responses from the government here on the podcast previously, but I think, with some new developments, I understand you've got some thoughts you'd like to share.

Lola T:

Yeah, I think there are a few things and it's about the financial threshold, but I'm not going to go into it for workers, so I want to focus on families.

Lola T:

So, for people who are settled in the UK and British citizens that are married to non-British or have non-British partners and they want them to either stay in the UK maybe their partners are already in the UK as workers or as students or on any other lawful basis and they want them to stay with them in the UK or their partners or spouses overseas and they want them to join them in the UK. So the financial threshold right now is 18,600. And the government has announced that they are going to double that and it's going to be at 8,700 pounds. So the sponsor has to be earning that amount per annum to be able to bring over their partners or their spouses. So that is at the moment, shaking people, people who are families overseas and wanting to bring their loved ones, and usually sometimes you are just bringing your partner or your spouse, but then you may have children and the children may not be British and you may need to bring them over as well. So that is the concern now.

James H:

What are the reasons the government has given for this increase in the threshold or such a dramatic increase?

Lola T:

Yeah, this particular announcement is because of the concerns around net migration. They feel that more people are coming into the UK than people living in the UK, and I think they will prefer to have it the other way around. So I think you know they said they are increasing the threshold of what workers can earn so that they can bring down the number of people coming into the UK. My concern right now is that, in order to bring the numbers down, I'm just thinking are they thinking about families? Are they thinking about actual British citizens?

James H:

Yes, which family members will be directly affected, or the family members of British citizens, by this increase?

Lola T:

As I said earlier on, there will be partners. When I say partners, not just casual partners, people that you are in a relationship with, in a relationship akin to marriage, or people that you are married to, or people or if you want to apply as a fiance so that you marry within the UK, and if your spouse or partner has children, they may even be your children, because I have some clients, for example. They are dual nationalities, maybe they are like Australians, and then they have British citizenship as well and they've been living in Australia for a long time and, for whatever reason, they want to move to the UK. So they have children who are not British and they have partners or spouses who are not British. So this is going to be affecting immediate family members in terms of children and partners or spouses.

James H:

And do you think, in terms of managing immigration, this new threshold will actually assist the government with their aims of lowering their overall numbers?

Lola T:

And that's my worry. That's my worry that, okay, this is what they want to achieve, but, you know, are they going to be able to achieve this in this particular way? Because this is almost double, it's near double, of minimum wage. How many people are earning that figure? And, like I said, some partners are already in the UK on, some of these are. Some of them, they are students, some of them, they have worked with them.

Lola T:

So what this may do is I hope not, but you know, when people are pushed, this is what can happen. So we may have British citizens that are now worried and thinking I don't want my spouse to leave me, I don't want my partner to leave me, I don't want my children to leave me. So maybe in the meantime, if we can't afford this, maybe they just stay in the UK, and then that will be pushing up the figures of people who are now first, who are lawfully in the UK, who are afraid that if they leave the UK, you know they will not be able to come back because their, their, their, their British partner, their British spouses are not earning that figure. So if they leave, they will not be able to come back. So they would rather stay in the UK illegally and that is the. That is the last thing before want.

Lola T:

You know, regardless of what is being reported in the media, because life as an illegal immigrant is very, very difficult. You may not be able to get treatment. You may not be able to. It's not even male, you know landlord. They don't want to to to, to let to illegal immigrants so and you will not be able to work and you know it will affect, you know, every area of life. So people will be forced to, to, to, to do that and just stay at home. You know, and hoping for the best. So it will achieve the very opposite.

James H:

The government is trying to avoid yeah, and I'm wondering will there be an additional negative impact on the job market if people feel they can only move to the UK if they're going for, as you say, more of the higher paid jobs and not filling potential gaps in the labor market? As you say, most jobs probably fall into this bracket between the current threshold and what they're looking to increase it to. Is there likely to be, then, issues in filling those, those types of professions, and thinking particularly across the NHS?

Lola T:

Yeah, the NHS. This in terms of, maybe, the carers, this threshold does not affect them. But other areas, you know other. There are many, many businesses, for whatever reason, you know they are under pressure, they are not able to fill in, to fill these vacancies and they are, you know, wanting to bring in workers and the impact of this on the on the economy, on on businesses. I just hope that the government will really look into this.

Lola T:

Like I said earlier, at the beginning of this, I want to focus on families. You know, for today, to just think about families, because, okay, yes, I'm worried for companies that need workhouse promovers. This is a need. If businesses don't need it, they would not be doing it. It costs them a lot of money as well, so there is a need for it. That's why businesses are engaging in bringing workers from overseas. But let's leave businesses aside for now and concentrate on families.

Lola T:

As we all know, families are the heart of a nation. We have many British citizens who have worked overseas. Some of them they are working for British companies overseas and they've met the love of their lives, they've established families overseas and then, when their work ends overseas and they want to come back home, how can they not come back with the family that they were established? How can we make that difficult for them? Some of them? I have many clients that are coming back not even because they want to come back, not because their work has finished or anything, but because they have elderly parents and they want to come back to the UK to look after their elderly parents. That's all, and they're having to output their lives, the lives of their partners. But they can't. You know, I'm just worried. I'm worried that this is not just affecting immediate families, immediate lovers. I'm worried about the effect of this On the extended families, on many grandparents in the UK.

James H:

Yeah, I wonder a lot with your, both your role as now being, you know, actively involved in humanist causes and, obviously, your incredible professional experience and do. If anyone is listening and these types of issues are affecting them, please do check out Lola's professional profile. Based on your experience, what recommendations would you make to any government in taking a humane and practical, reasonable approach to these types of issues around immigration?

Lola T:

I think for everything that I've explained. One this is nearly double minimum wage. It's not reasonable to say only those who are earning certain amount. I understand what the government wants to achieve.

Lola T:

The government doesn't want people to come into the UK and be abiding on the benefit system For years. Now you cannot claim benefit anyway. If you are coming in as a partner or as a spouse, you are barred from claiming benefit. Also, people who are coming in, you know, migrant, they pay immigration health charge so that they are not abiding on the NHS. So they are already and actually they are paying double tax because most of them, when they come to the UK, they are working and they will be paying, you know, their national insurance, paying in their tax, paying to the health system, and then they pay immigration health charge on top of it.

Lola T:

So for, you know, right to family life, it's one of the fundamental human rights and as humanists we believe so much, we are passionate about human rights. So I'm, you know, begging the government to review this so that the threshold is not so high so as to stop families, so as to stop, you know, breaking up families, the effect on you know, we may have some family that will say okay, maybe I can bring my wife and leave the children behind for now. Maybe when my wife comes and then she's able to get, you know, the job, and then maybe we'll bring our children out. We'll bring one child at a time. There will be all sorts of arrangements and some people may not, may not even.

Lola T:

I don't know what. You know what individual families will think. Maybe they are able to achieve, but we're still. We don't want a situation whereby we are having family members of British citizens, family members of people in their own country, not being able to make application to the home office and then becoming illegal, when you know we don't need to have. We don't need to have that situation at all. At the moment it is 18,600, you know. So why can't we even have minimum wage people, many people on minimum wage, being able to have their families with them?

James H:

Yeah, it is very strange, this idea that they're trying to enforce a situation or create a situation where people will be forced to play into that stereotype that they're trying to avoid of coming to the country and not contributing to the workforce. It is odd that you know that stereotype persists when you only have to, you know, talk to most people who move to the country. They want to work, they want to contribute, and yet it sounds like the policy is what you're saying. A intended or unintended consequence of the policy is that it will put people in a position where it's better for them to remain, as you say, and illegal and not go out and work. So, yeah, it does sound like a bit of a backwards step.

Lola T:

Yes, let's fingers crossed that they rethink on this one and, in a way, I don't know why it feels so strongly that they are going to rethink. I just feel so strongly that, for families, they will rethink that one and come up with a different figure, something that is reasonable. It has to be in line with. A lot of nurses, a lot of teachers, police officers would not be able to. I don't, it's a difficult one to process and I don't know where that figure has come from. I don't, I'm trying to rationalize, you know, I'm trying to figure out.

Lola T:

How did they come up with that figure? Because I can understand 18,600. Even though you know, for me I would have thought, if you are earning above at least income support rate because before they introduced any financial threshold, it used to be adequate maintenance and to measure that, you know, to determine whether you can adequately support somebody, you know you must be earning income support rates and then they changed it from that to 18,600. And then we've lived with that since 2012. It has worked for vast majority, but now to double it, it's not even double, it's more than double.

Nicole S:

This is all really interesting, Lola. I was wondering, in one of the ways you've mentioned a bit about how they came up with the figures and about minimum wage. So I've just had a look and it looks like the full time minimum wage is about just over 18,900 or so. Do you think that's related to how they came up with the figures and also some of the other issues about where people's money might come from, because obviously wages aren't the one and only thing.

Lola T:

Yeah, I'm going to. I don't think, I'm absolutely sure, but I believe that they came up with that 18,600 from minimum wage, full time in a year, but that was 12 years ago. I can't, I don't know what the figure was 12 years ago. So we've had that 18,600 since 2012,. So for 11 years now.

Lola T:

So the new figure is very difficult to establish. You know how did they come up with it? The alternative to income, you know, of 18,600 is savings of 62,500 over six months. So if you don't have a job, for example, but you have savings, you can use that. So I'm now concerned to work out we've been trying to work out the equivalent, because how they came up with the 62,500 is the first 16,000 is. You know, if you want to claim benefit, that is the threshold of the savings that if you, you can have up to 16,000, but you can't have more than that. So that is the first 16,000 of the 62,500. And the rest is from 18,000 because if you are granted, if your sparsal application is granted, you'll be granted two and a half years. So it's 18,600 multiplied by two and a half, plus the 16,000. So that's how they came about it. So, if it is, if it is going to be 38,700, that will be 38,700 multiplied by two and a half plus 16,000.

Lola T:

My mathematics is not the best, but we are looking at over 100,000 savings. How many people are going to have that? A lot of my clients, some of them, will get help from their, you know, a gift, cash gift, sometimes from, you know, parents, a grandparent, extended relative, good friends. How many people will now have, you know, sometimes some parents are selling property to raise this money because they want their children to be happy, they want to see their grandchildren in the UK. So some parents are selling property to raise this money, you know, to give, to give their children. Now, when it's now over 100,000, how many, how many, how many people will have that money? How many people can raise that? So it's becoming then, marriage, love is now becoming it's no longer a fundamental right, but right of the privilege and the and the rich. I think, as humanists, we we should be concerned, you know, we really should be concerned, absolutely.

James H:

And thank you very much for bringing all of this to our attention, lola, and certainly we'll be coming back to you for updates over the coming months and hopefully, as you mentioned, we can make some progress on this matter. Thanks for all your hard work as well. So, lola, nicole, thanks for your input and we will be back after our interview with Emma Wadsworth-Jones.

Lucy Potter :

Hi, my name is Lucy Potter and I'm a researcher based at the University of Sheffield. I am currently conducting research on how asylum claims on the grounds of non-religiosity, which can include apostasy and blasphemy, are handled by the UK government. I am looking for refugees or people who are still seeking asylum on these grounds to take part in an interview with me on their experiences of the asylum system. This research is really important because there is no research on how non-religious asylum claims are dealt with currently and not much is known about non-religious persecution more widely. If you take part in this research, you will remain anonymous and unidentifiable, and I hope this research will make the asylum system inclusive of all belief systems, and I encourage anyone with experience to please contact me. My email is lpotter2 at sheffieldacuk. Thank you.

James H:

Emma Wadsworth-Jones is responsible for managing and coordinating humanist international's activities on behalf of humanists at risk. The principal editor of the Freedom of Thought Report, emma has a distinguished career in case work and campaigning for freedom of expression and devised strategies to support writers at risk across Africa, the Americas, asia and the Middle East. We are here today to discuss the latest edition of the Freedom of Thought Report, emma Wadsworth-Jones. Thank you very much for joining us on Humanism Now.

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

Thank you very much for having me.

James H:

Before we talk about the report, could you share a little bit about your personal background and how you came to your current role and decision to specialise in free thought matters?

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

Emma Wadsworth-Jones? Yeah, of course. So I joined Humanist International about three and a half years ago, I think. At this point, the role was entirely new and was created out of a reflection that we had increased numbers of requests from individuals at risk who needed support and we needed a more systematic approach to helping them. So the role was created and I appeared.

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

As you said in my introduction, I worked for Penn International for about eight years actually before this, so I have a long experience of devising strategies to support individuals at risk and also human rights research and documentation of violations. So when I was working at Penn, there was a lot of actual crossover and work with Humanist International because so many of the cases were the same. Especially when I was working on Asia, we had the Bangladeshi bloggers who were being attacked from 2012, 2015 onwards and so there was a lot of overlap as I was working to support a lot of those secular bloggers, and so I knew about the work. I'm an atheist, I've been brought up an atheist and I have discovered since that I am a humanist. So that's nice to know and that's where I come from.

James H:

Fantastic. Yeah, I think that link between well, I guess it's free speech, isn't it, when we talk about writers in particular and free thought, and I guess the free thinker movement is longstanding, so, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So could you give an overview of the Freedom of Thought report's main objectives, and what are this year's key findings and trends that you're seeing globally?

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

Of course. So the Freedom of Thought report documents each state's record about holding the rights of the non-religious globally, so we have an entry for every country in the world. It's an online first report, so every country has an entry online on our website, and then each year, we publish a key countries edition which is what we're talking about today which is probably between 10 to 15 entries that have been updated in the course of the year that we publish in print and then share with the world. We don't update every country every year, which is why it's difficult to make really broad, sweeping generalizations, but I can definitely give you a few insights.

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

The report itself there are lots of reports out there that look at the persecution of other religious or belief minorities across the globe, and this is, to our knowledge, the only one that's focused specifically on the non-religious, and so our aim is to be an authoritative, objective and accurate source of information that our stakeholders can go to, whether that's international institutions like the United Nations, or state governments, ngos so that there is something that's reputable and reliable that people can go to. And in terms of the sort of the patterns that we see, one thing that we definitely do know from our data is that approximately 70% of the world's population live in countries where the repression of humanist values is severely repressed, so that means that you know no-transcript. The full realisation of one's rights to freedom of religion or belief is impossible. You're likely to see apostasy laws, blasphemy laws, a great preponderance of harmful traditional practices, and it's likely to be people living in countries where religious nationalism is entrenching conservative values within society.

James H:

And in what way does this more systematic legal discrimination manifest against non-religious people and how does it impact their day-to-day lives?

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

Well. So when it comes to sort of the systematic, what you're likely to see is that non-religious worldviews aren't actually included within the state's understanding of what freedom of religion or belief is. So you're likely to see a level of discrimination there, in disparity, where religious groups are afforded privileges that the non-religious don't have. So it might be tax exemptions, for example, or funding for their buildings, for their activities. Perhaps it's likely in those circumstances that there's a state religion and that there might be some form of religious education which is mandatory and there isn't a secular or sort of humanist alternative to that that someone could choose to opt into instead of a religious education. And what that means is you tend to see marginalisation and stigma. The non-religious struggle to express their non-religious views, or they might face stigma for calling the state secularism, for example, and that has knock-on effects in terms of someone's ability, for example, to secure employment, for example, or retain it. Even they might find that they get a job and then, because of their beliefs, they find a way to dismiss them relatively quickly.

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

And of course, blasphemy laws are a really big issue for the non-religious. So we find that where blasphemy laws, the penalties are highest and the most severe, so the death penalty, or perhaps prison, particularly the death penalty, what you'll see is a greater likelihood that there'll be vigilante justice. So that's a very threatening circumstance for people to live in, and it can mean actual attacks, like the Bangladeshi bloggers, for example, that we've already discussed similar in Pakistan. It can also mean social isolation, familial abuse, and it can lead to. All of this can lead to a really stifling environment which is really damaging to someone's mental health when they're not able or they don't feel safe to express their personal views and live true to their own values.

James H:

Yeah, it certainly sounds like there's a whole range of threats and challenges that are faced. How does the type of discrimination which you document not only impact non-religious people, but also religious minorities or non-conformists in the countries that are highlighted?

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

It absolutely does. I think that that's especially the case where there is a state religion from which legislation is at least partly derived. Where that's the case, you'll find that any religion or belief minority will face persecution. Our report obviously focuses on the persecution that the non-religious might face, but in many circumstances it's actually very difficult to get data on the non-religious, not because they don't exist, but because of the circumstances in which they live. They're probably living underground and the state probably doesn't even recognize that they don't exist or there's not the attention paid to them. So in those circumstances we try to look at wider patterns of persecution and look at where there are patterns that are more generalizable to our population, by looking at religion or belief minorities within a given country.

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

What happens when you have a state religion is that you tend to find that there's a very prescriptive view of that religion and the interpretation of that religion, and so even what's the term we would use, sort of sects or the Ahmadiyya Muslims, for example, in Pakistan, are not deemed to be Muslims. In Pakistan, they are not allowed to identify as such, and that's because there is a really strict interpretation of that, and we see this across the globe, in any country where there is a strong religious group that has an influence over state policy, it's not specifically limited to one religion or belief group. We see discrimination across the globe from whichever religion or belief group, and it's also important, I think, to say that we see discrimination perpetrated by non-religious majority groups too. So, for example, if you look at France, you see that it's a so-called secular state. It's not a state that we would deem to be secular, because they weaponise Lysite against religious minorities, particularly the Muslim population.

James H:

Yeah, no, it's a very important point to highlight as well. So this really is a as much as it's a humanistic report. It really has secularism at its core, yes, and about that freedom to practise one's religion. So do you offer advice to states, or what role do you believe that authorities or governments should play in protecting and promoting freedom of thought and belief in their society?

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

Well, I think, fundamentally, it is the state's role to uphold the rights of all, and as humanists, we believe in freedom of religion or belief for all. We don't believe that we are superior. We don't advocate solely for us versus anyone else, it's very much. Everyone should have the right to believe whatever they choose, and for that reason, I think it's imperative for states to uphold secularism, by which we mean a separation between religious and political authorities and where no one is persecuted against for their religion or belief. And I think that that's the key priority for states, or it should be, because only by upholding secularism will you see the full realisation of human rights and democracy, because the national framework, legal framework, influences social behaviour. So where you see the privilege of one or more religion or belief groups within a country, that will often be reflected back in social dynamics and in other areas of society. So it's really important that the government and the authorities do actually pay attention to the issue.

James H:

On that point. You mentioned France as an example of a state which is would describe itself as secular but potentially has a slightly different interpretation of what that means to what we'd like to see. Are there any countries which you would say are doing secularism rights who probably have a good approach to model, or is there work to be done everywhere?

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

I think, according to our report, there are perhaps I think it's, I don't know off the top of my head, for certain, but it's around 20 countries that we were deemed to be truly secular. So, if I have a think, in fact, let me have a look at what they are. One of them would be Belgium. We have Chile, we have Ukraine, South Africa, slovenia. There's a whole range of countries that do it and do it slightly differently. I think that the key for us is to make sure that when we're upholding secularism, we're making sure that that is freedom of religion or belief for all, and not just for the non-religious to be safe.

James H:

Yeah, absolutely, and not just for the majority or yeah, anyone group that makes sense. So how is the freedom of thought report being used to influence policy and aid individuals in facing persecution for their beliefs?

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

It's been used in a lot of ways. Actually, that's one of the most exciting things about the report I find is the ways that particularly humanist internationals, members and associates use the report, often within their own domestic advocacy efforts and that might be around issues that they are facing within their own country and using the report to really lend legitimacy to the fact that the non-religious exist and are a distinct minority within freedom of religion or belief. Lots of states fail to understand that nuance and fail to fully understand the right to freedom of religion or belief does include the non-religious. So having a report like this really helps to lend legitimacy to that which we know to be a fact but they might not have a full understanding of. So lots of our members use it for those purposes. They also use it to support individuals at risk or to advocate on change in countries where there might be. For example, the UK might have a trade agreement with another state and being able to say, okay, but if you're going to make a new trade agreement, then please make it contingent on these things.

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

Look at the circumstances that people are facing and leveraging the report to bring about that change. In really specific terms. We've seen it used to help influence asylum policy. So one of the things that I come up against quite a lot in my work is faulty asylum determinations, where a non-religious person's asylum claim will be rejected on the basis that they don't have to manifest their belief in the way that a Christian or a Muslim might. You know, we don't have to go to a church or a mosque or wherever it might be, so we can just conceal our identity and that's fine, so we can go home, we're safe if we just pretend, but that's not actually how the right works. General Comment 22 has made it very clear that that is not acceptable. It's not acceptable for anyone and that was a thing that was used with the LGBT community for a long time to deny them their rights and say oh well, just go home and pretend to be straight, you'll be fine.

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

No, it's not acceptable, and so what we've been doing, and what several of our members have been doing, is using the report to make it clear to states that the non-religious face persecution because of their beliefs and that they should be treated equally with their religious counterparts. So we've seen change. In Norway, for example, the Ministry of Justice have released guidance that the non-religious and their persecution on the basis of their beliefs should be treated equally. In the UK, I know that Humanist UK has done a lot of work with the Home Office in training Home Office staff in assessing the cases of the non-religious and have used the report too.

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

I use the report every day in my work. It was particularly working with individuals at risk, either to help me assess their cases and judge their level of risk, but also to advocate for them. So where they are claiming asylum or where they are seeking relocation, I can use the evidence in the report to say look, this is, this is backed up by actual evidence here. It is take it seriously, and I know that there are lots of other NGOs that use it too. For that reason, that's fantastic.

James H:

Yeah, and thank you for leading us on to some of the wider work that Humanist International does and for anyone who is not aware, do check out the websites and just the sheer scope of work and coverage that Humanist International do. It's really amazing. How else do you and the wider team at Humanist International work to support individuals and communities who are at risk?

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

Well, I think it's a common thread for everything that we do. So core to our strategy is ensuring that everyone can lead a dignified and fulfilling life. So, for example, we have an advocacy team that lobby international institutions at the sort of EU level, at the United Nations level, to ensure that human rights priorities that are informed by humanist values are on the agenda, and to raise cases of concern with relevant authorities and make sure that they are being protected and supported. We also support our member and associate organisations on the ground, both through providing grants so that they can run their own projects, but also through capacity building, training and initiatives, for example. I think one of the things to remember with our members and associates is that many of them are operating in in planets that are really hostile to their existence, so we have a duty to support them. They are trailblazing, they are being the public face that shows that humanism is a friendly thing, not something to be afraid of. So we support them in order to be able to run and operate their work.

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

And then, in addition to that, we also provide direct support to individuals at risk, which varies depending on the individual and what their needs are, but it might be public campaigning, such as in the case of Mubarak Bala, who is the president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, who is currently serving a 24 year prison sentence for causing a public disturbance due to Facebook posts that some people are deemed to be blasphemous.

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

It could be also through advocacy, so, for example, liaising with a special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, for example. It could also be through private diplomacy, so reaching out to local governments and making them aware of situations, helping getting them to help facilitate protective measures. It might be through emergency grants, too, which we provide to individuals to help cover legal fees, to help cover daily expenses. Many people who are living in hiding can't go out to work, so being able to provide them with a modest, genuinely modest, financial grant can help them to have the headspace to work out what they do next, and then also providing the asylum support that I've discussed, challenging those dodgy decisions and looping people into a wider network of non-religious people, of humanists. Often people feel very isolated where they are, and being able to connect them with a wider network can be so nourishing and supportive and help them to to feel safe.

James H:

Thank you.

James H:

Yeah, no, it's not just such a wide range of activities that you have, but I love that.

James H:

The core running through it is that allowing people to be publicly who they are and also to feel safe, and certainly I can attest to the community that's provided through the global network. We ran an event on World Humanist Day last year and tried to get as many local representatives of local groups and it was wonderful to see. You know we have a pretty thriving group here in London, but for a lot of people who joined it was very much heartwarming to connect with people who understood and were going through similar issues, and the issues that were faced in each of those countries were so sometimes so different and I think we forget. As you say, there's still plenty of issues to work on here in the UK, but you forget that sometimes the daily persecution and oppression in other countries is still very severe. So thank you for all the fantastic work that you continue to do. If anyone is listening and interested to support, how can individuals or organizations contribute to the cause and help you with these campaigns?

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

There are so many ways. Obviously, there's the donation, of course. You can become an individual supporter of the cause to Humanist International. You can sign up to our newsletter, and I think that doing that in itself is actually really useful, because there you find information on what's going on elsewhere in the world, and it means that when there is a case that we need people globally to take up and to stand for, you've got access to that information, and when we put a call out, you can take action on that case. You can do what we I always send out suggestions of what you should do, who you write to, etc. Etc. And having people to actually take up the cause and to advocate for our friends and colleagues is really important.

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

I think that another really key way that we can influence changes is actually by raising awareness about what's going on.

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

So, like I said before, this is one report in a myriad of reports that are out there that look at lots of different people and lots of different groups, and I think that the non-religious are often overlooked, and so being able to spread the word, sharing information, publicizing the fact that the non-religious do face persecution, really sensitizes states to the fact that it should also be a priority and they should pay attention to it and it shouldn't be overlooked, so that when people do reach out for help, it's taken seriously.

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

I think that as humanists, we also we are able to show that non-religious beliefs aren't threatening. We believe in for for all, and if we can demonstrate that we aren't threatening, we help to create a safer environment for everyone, and I think that that's really important. And then, if you want to do something really active, you can obviously volunteer time, volunteer to help research for the freedom of thought report, for example. Or if you've got linguistic expertise I'm always looking for people with linguistic expertise please come my way. There are lots of different ways to get involved, depending on how much energy you have.

James H:

We can definitely include your contact details or how to get involved and, if any listeners would like to contribute with reporting or translating, to get in touch and before we go, are you optimistic about the future when it comes to matters of freedom of thought and belief?

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

Yes, I am. I'm optimistic because there are organisations like yours and like so many others that are members of Humanist International that are doing the work and that are doing amazing things all over the globe that will bring about change over time. I think it's very easy to become sort of apathetic and feel like nothing's changing. I sometimes succumb to that feeling too, but I think that actually change takes time and persistence. But I do think we will get there. I think that we will see positive developments. We just have to be patient and persistent.

James H:

Fantastic, and thank you for your positive attitude as well in approaching these matters. I imagine it can be not only a very stressful undertaking putting together such a huge report but, as you mentioned, sometimes it must feel like a struggle and there's still a lot to fight for, but you seem to be approaching it with a warm and positive attitude. So thank you again for your hard work. Just to wrap up, we'd like to ask our guests what something they've changed their mind on recently. This could be related to the report or just something more general in your life.

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

I was trying to think about this for ages. I don't know whether it's just that I'm incredibly stubborn. I think it's not, that I think my views tend to be informed by human rights and by facts and information. So, apart from the very small day to day things like how I want to approach a sewing project, I haven't really changed my mind on anything in a while. Not that I'm not open to it. I would love to have someone change my mind, but at the moment I haven't got anything for you, I'm afraid no problem.

James H:

Well, what's the next sewing project?

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

I'm finishing various Christmas presents at the moment, so I'm trying to work out how to finish sewing a wash bag and tying myself in knots.

James H:

Well, it is the season. So, emma, thank you so much, not only for all your fantastic work. If anybody would like to read this year's Freedom of Thought report, it will be out at the time of publication and we'll share all the relevant links. And, of course, if you would like to contribute, please do contact Emma, or you can contact us and we will put you in touch. But, emma Woodsworth Jones, thank you so much for joining us on Humanism Now.

Emma Wadsworth-Jones:

Thank you very much.

James H:

Welcome back to Humanism Now, and thank you to Emma Woodsworth Jones for that fantastic interview and all of the amazing work that her and her team do on the Freedom of Thought report. It will be published by the time this podcast goes live, so if you're interested to see how your country performs, do go and check that out. Nicole, I know you had a chance to hear what Emma had to say there. What was your main takeaways from not only Emma's comments on comments but also the report in general?

Nicole S:

Yeah, it's always really interesting and it's always really interesting to listen to Emma talk about her work.

Nicole S:

It's very important and very highly specialized, so it was great to listen to.

Nicole S:

The thing that struck me the most and it's something I've always been very aware of with the work of Humanist International and the Freedom of Thought report, but it's something that people who are a bit more new to it or outside of it might not realize is that it's not just for us as atheists and humanists and people with no faith.

Nicole S:

It's for anyone who is a religious minority, and it's something that Emma was talking about. And it's really important because, if we believe in true freedom of religion and belief, it's freedom for other people to have their own religion and express their own religion, and I think that you'd be hard pressed to find a humanist who would disagree with that, because one of the reasons that we're free to be humanists and talk about our ideas is because us here in the UK have the freedom to say you know, I'm a humanist, don't believe in God, but this is what I do believe in, and because of that, we should also defend the rights of others to be able to believe what they believe and be and support in other countries? How we can that freedom of religion?

James H:

Yeah, absolutely. I think one thing that really served me was her comments on France, which is a country that many of us would think of as being secular. However, their low score is not due to people not not being allowed to be openly atheist or humanist, but because of their restrictions on those who want to demonstrate their religion through their, their way or symbolism. So I think it that side of it of supporting everyone to express their religion in you know, provided they're not, it's within reason express their religion freely is hugely important, and I know it's also well respected amongst religious groups as well. So it's incredibly important work and I hope they keep it up.

Nicole S:

Absolutely, and I think that's it. You know we're, as humanists, pushing for a secular society. Some people might misinterpret that as we want all religion gone. Of course we don't, but we want everyone to be able to pick their own religion and be free to believe that and not believe it or believe something else, rather than it being dictated from any bigger body.

James H:

Yes, definitely and not. I think from your experience with the humanist groups and also your professional experience, do you think it is important that we try to make the UK more of a accepting society for people who are coming to the UK, perhaps for dealing with difficulties of freedom of belief in their own countries, and do you think we need to increase the level of understanding that people have of the potential challenges that those who are in a minority or perhaps leaving faith face when they are coming out in certain countries?

Lola T:

Absolutely. I think what we are proud of about the UK is our tolerance and our acceptance of people. You know, regardless of your religion, your orientation, A lot of people that have fled to the UK. They have fled to the UK because of what we stand against. Some people have fled to the UK because they are different sects of the same religion. They are facing persecution and that risks their life, because they are a minority sect in their own country or because they changed their thought In some countries.

Lola T:

If you leave Islam to even become a Christian we are not talking about atheism now you leave Islam, you become a Christian, and that puts you at risk, puts your life at risk. Therefore, we have that moral responsibility and, as we said earlier on, we are stignatory to the European Convention of Human Rights. We are stignatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention and United Nations Refugee Convention. One of the things that recognized is respect for freedom of expression, freedom of thought and freedom of religion. As humanists, we are hoping for more day. You know what we are against, really, or what I am against, as you know, as a humanist, or what I want is a rational world, but rationality is a journey. I'm grateful for the journey, for my journey to Humanism.

Lola T:

I was religious but I enjoyed, you know, practicing my religion. It was on my own, you know. It was at home that I became an atheist. Nobody told me anything, I figured it out myself. If people ever figure it out, fine. If they never figure it out, as long as what they believe does not put anybody else at risk, as long as you are not targeting anyone because of their gender, because of their sexuality, because of anything, whatever you want to believe, please feel free. So I hope that we continue to be tolerant in the UK we are tolerant and I hope that we continue to be, and any voice that is coming against that, I hope that we resist. We resist voice in tolerant voices.

James H:

Absolutely. I think tolerance is fundamental. One of the key things about tolerance is it doesn't come easy. I think lots of people like to consider themselves tolerant, but in order to be tolerating something, it must be something that potentially you are not too comfortable with, so it is something that requires that constant work. Thank you as well for flagging some positives. I know we can be a little bit down here on some of the things in the UK a lot of the time, but thank you for your right to flag some positives that we are able to offer humanists at risk around the world. But whilst we may be a reasonably tolerant society, nicole, do you think the UK is a secular society?

Nicole S:

Interesting. Well, it's officially not, isn't it? Partly there's things like the bishops in the House of Lords is the big issue, and then the fact that a lot of politicians they want to bring back. They keep saying we're a Christian country or wanting to bring back more Christian flavour into the government, which I think lots of people, even lots of Christians, also disagree with, because again they're like well, I want to do it, but not because the government's telling me or because this is some mandated thing.

Nicole S:

But I think that, even though we're officially not, I think that in kind of day-to-day life I don't know, it's kind of de facto secularism in a way unlike France, anyone can display their religious clothes or signs of religious affiliation publicly and again and express themselves, express their opinion, as long as it's not anything hateful or harmful to others. And I feel that day-to-day that's very good in the UK in general. I live in Leicester, which meant for very multicultural, very multi-faith, and you see people everywhere with all these different religious clothes and religious things and the city does really good in celebrating basically every single religious holiday, even the really small ones, and it's really lovely. It's really nice to see that the council isn't being like, oh no, we have to make the Christian one the big one. It's like, oh, it's all great, and obviously some will naturally be smaller, but yeah, I think that on the ground it were quite good. Obviously, I think we can improve. There's always room for improvement but in general I think it's quite good in the UK.

James H:

Lola, would you concur?

Lola T:

Yeah, absolutely, and I think that neutrality is what we need to seek in terms of how we conduct especially policies, so that it gives equal opportunity to everyone. I think the only thing I'm a little bit uncomfortable with is having religious leaders in the House of Lords, and I think we need to keep that neutrality so that Britain continues to be equal for everyone in terms of their belief.

James H:

Well as anything, the issue of bishops in the House of Lords is one which is going to rumble on and one which we should certainly dedicate an episode to soon, but with that, I think we're coming up on time, so all that remains is to thank my fantastic panellists, as ever, nicole and Lola. Before we go, nicole, what is happening with the Lester humanists as we head into 2024?

Nicole S:

Yes, we've been planning the year ahead. So anyone who's listening from Lester look forward to some good things. Yeah, we're going to have our program out in early January of what the year ahead will take. Lots of nice social things, more interesting lectures, yeah, but there's no events up yet, but they'll be up shortly.

James H:

Great Well, thank you very much for joining us and, of course, always lovely to see Lola and what is in store for the Association of Black Humanists in the coming months.

Lola T:

I think for now we have a study group, so we've been studying philosophy and please just find us on meetupcom. I think two weeks ago we studied SAPRA. That was fun. I can't remember who we're studying next, but it's on meetupcom, so this has been going on every two weeks. So we are doing European philosophers for now. By February we will start studying African philosophers. So yeah, I have to say that I haven't done any African philosophy, so I'm really looking forward to it.

James H:

Absolutely, and is there a test at the end of all these study?

Lola T:

groups. I'm looking for a certificate.

James H:

There you go. Well, if you'd like to join any of our speakers, any of those events, you can find the links in the show notes. So thank you to our wonderful panel, thank you to Emma Woodsworth-Jones and thank you to listener for joining us on Humanism Now.