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Because atheism can be defined in various ways, those discriminated against or persecuted on the grounds of being atheists might not have been considered atheists in a different time or place.
As of 2015, 19 countries punish their citizens for apostasy, and in 14 of those countries it is punishable by death. Scholars have argued that some small underdeveloped glimpses of atheism existed in the ancient world, though not in a modern sense because people had not developed a language for nonbelief; theistic beliefs in 5th Century BC Greece were not very active in public life the way they are in the modern world, and polytheism made it difficult to centralize the beliefs of any region or culture.
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.
Though heralded as atheist martyrs during the nineteenth century, recent scholars hold that the beliefs espoused by Dolet and Vanini are not atheistic in modern terms.
Heinrich Himmler, who was fascinated with Germanic paganism, was a strong promoter of the gottgläubig movement and didn't allow atheists into the SS, arguing that their "refusal to acknowledge higher powers" would be a "potential source of indiscipline".
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is designed to protect the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.
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.
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.