Humanism as a vision of society
For many people, religion or belief is a profoundly important part of life. As Humanists, we believe that people should have the freedom to live in accordance with their religion and/or beliefs. They should be free to change their religion or belief or to reject religion entirely.
Therefore, there should be no laws restricting freedom of religion or belief, so long as that freedom does not harm the rights of others.
Secularism: the best framework for harmonious coexistence of all life stances
In the European Parliament’s words, “secularism, defined asthe strict separation between non-confessional political authorities and religious authorities, as well as the impartiality of the State are the best means of guaranteeing non-discrimination and equality between religions and between believers and non-believers”.
A secular state is not an anti-religious state, but one where public debate is not shaped by one dominant set of beliefs that might provide strong motivation to some citizens, but mean little or nothing to others. A secular society addresses disagreements and seeks compromise via rational public debate conducted in the spirit of critical thinking.
Different countries in Europe have different histories, institutions and assumptions. The outlook and beliefs of non-religious people are naturally subject to these variations but the spirit remains the same: creating a framework for the multiple life stances within our societies to co-exist in harmony.
Thus, all levels of government and public institutions – hospitals, schools, broadcasting, etc. – should promote equal treatment for all different belief systems and the organizations and groups (churches, etc.) that embody and represent them.
Secularism as an institutional framework is a necessary but not sufficient condition to allow the multitude of life stances present in our societies to co-exist in harmony. It has to be combined with freedom, equality, solidarity, critical thinking, human rights and the respect of human dignity, which are all essential values of humanism.
This is why, beyond secularism, a humanist vision of society encompasses the below concepts.
The rule of law is a constitutional principle requiring government to be conducted according to law. It rests on the equality of all human beings before the law both in their rights and their duties, and offers a framework that allows the adoption of rules that apply to all based on agreed political principles and methods of governance.
Freedom of expression is of particular importance to Humanists as it allows everyone to express their beliefs as long as this does not harm the rights of others, such as incitement to discrimination, hatred or violence. Sadly, to this day many European countries still have laws penalizing blasphemy or mockery/criticism of religion, thereby effectively limiting freedom of expression. Such laws are not compatible with a humanist society, which seeks to maximize freedom of expression.
Equality allows everyone to live their life to the fullest. A humanist society protects its citizens through anti-discrimination legislation. Such discriminations can be based on religion or belief, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnic origin, etc.
Education provides citizens with the tools to fully participate in society. It is vital for a democratic society, as it enables citizens to grasp the essence of public debate, develop their own understanding and make their own choices when exercising their citizenship rights. A humanist society puts education on top of the agenda, so as to foster vibrant facts-driven public debate based on critical thinking, intellectual honesty and curiosity.
Science is a cornerstone of a humanist society, as the discoveries and innovations provided by science allow us to address the wide array of challenges currently facing our society; from global warming to incurable diseases. Moreover, science informs public debate, providing the evidence needed to make the best decisions at a given time.
Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, encompassing the right to contraception, to safe abortion, and to adapted sexual education, including for minors, are fundamental in a humanist society. A woman’s right to be master of her own body has to be truly enabled by providing her with proper information and safe and legal access to abortion that does not put her health at risk, nor harm her dignity.
The right to die in dignity is a fundamental part of a humanist society. Humanists believe that the manner and time of dying should be a matter of individual choice and that individuals should have the right, in agreed circumstances and with the proper safeguards, to determine how and when they can seek assistance to die.