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During the Inquisition, several of those accused of atheism or blasphemy, or both, were tortured or executed.These included the priest Giulio Cesare Vanini who was strangled and burned in 1619 and the Polish nobleman Kazimierz Łyszczyński who was executed in Warsaw, as well as Etienne Dolet, a Frenchman executed in 1546.The word Hitler used in this speech, "Gottlosenbewegung", means "Godless Movement" in German, and it refers to the communist freethought movement, though it might not refer to atheism in general. Evans wrote that, by 1939, 95% of Germans still called themselves Protestant or Catholic, while 3.5% were so called "gottgläubig" (lit."believers in god", a non-denominational nazified outlook on the belief in god, often described as predominantly based on creationist and deistic views) and 1.5% atheist.As a result, open legal discrimination against atheists is not common in most Western countries.However, prejudice against atheists does exist in Western countries.Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is designed to protect the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.In 1993, the UN's human rights committee declared that article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights "protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief".

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In addition, freedom of expression provisions and legislation separating church from state also serve to protect the rights of atheists.

The committee further stated that "the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief necessarily entails the freedom to choose a religion or belief, including the right to replace one's current religion or belief with another or to adopt atheistic views".

Signatories to the convention are barred from "the use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers" to recant their beliefs or convert.

Atheistic beliefs were seen as threatening to order and society by philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas.

Lawyer and scholar Thomas More said that religious tolerance should be extended to all except those who did not believe in a deity or the immortality of the soul.

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