An atheist group in Kenya has been denied formal registration as a recognised association on the grounds that “The Registrar has reasonable cause to believe that the interests of peace welfare [sic] or good order in Kenya would be likely to suffer prejudice by reason of your registration as a Society.”
The group, Atheists in Kenya (AIK), have dismissed the assessment as a kind of “guesswork” and deemed the decision an act of “blatant discrimination”. AIK has said it would take the registrar to court to overturn the decision.
The head of AIK, Harrison Mumia, highlighted the hypocrisy of a system in which “church leaders who have defiled minors” have been allowed to register, but a new association of minority non-religious were denied recognition from the outset.
Mumia told IHEU that the group had “been denied meeting places by several hotels on the basis that we are atheists. Two hotels have actually eject us from their rooms on this basis. We have also been denied advertisement space by leading newspapers on the basis that they do not allow atheistic content as an editorial policy.” The grounds cited for their rejection as a society were “flimsy”, he said, and “We continue to face discrimination as a minority and most atheists in Kenya do not want to come out. It gets worse at work places where employers seem not very accommodating of atheists.
“By not registering atheists in Kenya, we are being denied the right to fully participate in national affairs as a legal entity. … Our capacity to achieve our objectives are hugely curtailed.”
In a letter of appeal to the Attorney General, AIK notes that:
“It is our case that the registrar in her refusal to register Atheists In Kenya is acting in an illegal and unconstitutional manner contrary to the letter and spirit of the law. This is a blatant abuse of her discretionary powers given under Section11 of the Society’s Act. As pointed out earlier she has failed to identify which object, if any, would cause the prejudice that she alleges.”
President of the IHEU, Andrew Copson, said:
“The right to freedom of association, without discrimination, is vital to a free and flourishing civil society. No clear reason has been given for denying the formal registration of Atheists in Kenya (AIK), only vague notions of hypothetical social upset.
To be as charitable as possible, we can speculate that the registrar imagined an aggressive backlash against AIK’s founders and members, and that their registration was denied for their own safety. But no actual threat has been made by any party. And moreover the entirely hypothetical risk of other people responding with violence, unprovoked, to the mere existence of a formally registered group, whether they are atheists, or other minorities denied registration such as LGBT groups, cannot be used to deny the group’s right to freedom of association.
By such logic, any vague idea that hostility is possible could be used to suppress any minority group. This only adds to their marginalization, and lends legitimacy to those who promote intolerance against them.
It does a great disservice to ordinary Kenyans to imagine that the formal registration of an atheist group would upset “peace” in general, or a great disservice to the members of AIK to imagine that their views are of a kind that is detrimental to anyone’s “welfare”, let alone “governance” (of what – governance of the state itself?)
We join AIK in calling for the review of their application and ask that they be granted status as a recognized organisation in Kenya.”