Atheists and other religious skeptics suffer persecution or discrimination in many parts of the world and in at least seven nations can be executed if their beliefs become known, according to a report issued on Monday.
The study, from the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), showed that "unbelievers" in Islamic countries face the most severe - sometimes brutal - treatment at the hands of the state and adherents of the official religion.
But it also points to policies in some European countries and the United States which favor the religious and their organizations and treat atheists and humanists as outsiders.
The report, "Freedom of Thought 2012", said "there are laws that deny atheists' right to exist, curtail their freedom of belief and expression, revoke their right to citizenship, restrict their right to marry."
Other laws "obstruct their access to public education, prohibit them from holding public office, prevent them from working for the state, criminalize their criticism of religion, and execute them for leaving the religion of their parents."
According to its survey of some 60 countries, the seven where expression of atheist views or defection from the official religion can bring capital punishment are Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
In a range of other countries - such as Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Kuwait and Jordan - publication of atheist or humanist views on religion are totally banned or strictly limited under laws prohibiting "blasphemy".
In Greece and Russia, the Orthodox Church is fiercely protected from criticism and is given pride of place on state occasions, while in Britain bishops of the Church of England have automatic seats in the upper house of parliament.
While freedom of religion and speech is protected in the United States, the report said, a social and political climate prevails "in which atheists and the non-religious are made to feel like lesser Americans, or non-Americans."
In at least seven U.S. states, constitutional provisions are in place that bar atheists from public office and one state, Arkansas, has a law that bars an atheist from testifying as a witness at a trial, the report said.
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