On December 5, the Freethought Report 2017 was published by the International Humanist and Ethical Union. The picture that emerges is discomforting: in at least 85 countries in the world atheists and agnostics suffer serious discrimination; in 30 of these (mostly Islamic states or states with a Muslim majority) apostasy is subject to the death penalty.
Italy, not surprisingly, is part of the 55 "second tier" countries: not among the 30 in which the situation is alarming, but among the 55 with serious violations (usually concerning religious control over family law or "moral" issues and punishment of blasphemy).
The most critical issues concern Catholic teaching in public schools; the "8 per thousand" financing system which transfers about one billion euros from the coffers of the State to those of the Church each year; the overwhelming presence of the Catholic Church on television (for example, between September 2015 and August 2016, 726 religious television programs were aired, 524 of which focused on Catholicism).
Italy is also among the countries that punish blasphemy (article 724 criminal code): not with the death penalty, of course, but it is only since 1999 that the behavior has been decriminalized and reduced to "administrative wrongdoing".
These are all consequences of the Italian political class's long-standing willingness to protect the interests of the Catholic Church. And we have recently obtained additional proof of this tendency.
A few weeks ago, the new head of a public school in Palermo, Sicily, decided to remove the cumbersome statues of saints and madonnas that dotted the corridors of the institute, and to forbid teachers to ask children to recite prayers before eating.
There was an immediate reaction from the Minister of Education, Valeria Fedeli, who criticized the principal's decisions during a public appearance at a symposium about the social doctrines of the Church.
This attitude unites the right and the left (or what remains of it): the post-fascist leader of Fratelli d'Italia Giorgia Meloni and the fascists of Forza Nuova are aliigned with the Minister's position.
But a similar picture emerges in many parts of Europe. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Malta, Macedonia, Hungary, Poland, Russia are among the 55 countries that consistently violate the rights of atheists and agnostics.
This is a concerning situation because, as Andrew Copson, president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union points out, human rights are either respected as a whole or disrespected as a whole. That's just how human rights work. If you violate one today then you will violate others tomorrow, and social welfare will, bit by bit, get chipped away.