2017 has been an extremely successful year for Humanists UK. Here are a few of the things we’ve achieved…
Relationships and sex education
The Government announced compulsory relationships and sex education in all English state schools. This followed on from decades of campaigning by us, including this year our mapping MPs’ views on the issue, demonstrating majority support, and publishing a report analysing Ofsted inspections on the subject and showing they can’t be relied upon as the sole enforcement lever. We played a key role in the ad hoc coalition that made the announcement happen, and have continued to work with the Government on curriculum proposals since.
Disappointingly, in June, the Supreme Court ruled by 3-2 against extending free abortion services in England for women from Northern Ireland. But following extensive lobbying by us and others, this was quickly overturned in the UK Parliament, with the Scottish and Welsh Governments shortly following suit. The Isle of Man is also seriously considering legalising abortion, after work by the Isle of Man Freethinkers. And we intervened in a separate case at the Supreme Court, about women accessing abortion in Northern Ireland in the cases of sexual crime or foetal abnormality. Finally, following two English councils – Ealing and Portsmouth – considering introducing harassment-free ‘buffer zones’ outside abortion clinics, the Government announced a review of the matter – something we’ve been lobbying for for three years.
We took a legal challenge against the lack of recognition for humanist marriages in Northern Ireland. This succeeded at the High Court, and led to the first legal humanist marriage there in June, but is being appealed by the Government to the Court of Appeal. Scotland has had legal recognition since 2005, and following our lobbying, Jersey is now proposing to do the same. We have been working hard to secure the same in England and Wales, meeting with the Justice Secretary and Justice Minister about it.
Free books about humanism
In February, we sent free copies of What is Humanism? to every primary school across the UK, in order to support more teachers to confidently include humanism in lessons. This is the first time we’ve sent a book to primaries.
One quarter of hospital trusts
In September, we reached a milestone in our work to ensure equality of care for the non-religious, as we placed members of our Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network in over 25% of NHS acute trusts, including in two paid roles. Our pastoral support volunteers also operate in universities, hospitals, and 12% of prisons.
In June, Scotland announced it will introduce opt-out organ donation, instead of opt-in, and in October England followed suit. This has been a long-term campaign aim of ours.
20,000 pupils reached
This year, our humanist school speakers spoke to over 20,000 pupils across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, more than ever before, helping spread awareness of humanism as the name we give to today’s most prevalent non-religious worldview: think for yourself, act for everyone.
Crispin Blunt was elected as the first ever Conservative Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, and Joan Bakewell as the first female Co-Chair. Tommy Sheppard became the group’s first SNP Officer, and more generally it has grown since the general election by over 10%.
Welsh state funeral
In May, we said farewell to our patron of many years, former First Minister of Wales Rhodri Morgan, with an historic first: the first ever state or national funeral led by a humanist. In death as in life, Rhodri helped to advance awareness and understanding of humanism.
In November, the NHS in England voted to defund homeopathy prescriptions, and asked the Health Secretary to end all homeopathy funding across the NHS. We’ve been working with Good Thinking Society to see several local authorities end funding, with several doing so over 2017.
Our member Noel Conway brought a legal challenge in favour of assisted dying, which failed at the High Court but is now being appealed to the Court of Appeal – and another member of ours, Omid T, is also bringing his own challenge. We have intervened in the first case and are applying to in the second.
Faith school admissions
The UK Government, having been committed at the start of the year to lifting the 50% cap on religious selection amongst new English state schools, has now rowed back to merely considering it. This is significant progress, although there’s still further to go. The Liberal Democrats for their part voted to end religious selection entirely, thanks to the work of us and Humanist and Secularist Lib Dems.
Illegal religious schools
Following campaigning by us, including a piece on Newsnight, Hackney Council was prompted to launch an inquiry into illegal Charedi Jewish schools in its patch, while Ofsted was prompted to set up a dedicated ‘Unregistered schools team’ of eight inspectors. We were the first external people that team chose to meet with, and also were the first to bring in pupils from those schools to meet staff, including Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, and the Director of the Department for Education’s Safeguarding in Schools and Counter Extremism Group. Ofsted also successfully fought a case at the Court of Appeal to bring an end gender segregation in mixed-sex schools.
The Commission on Religious Education proposed introducing a national entitlement for RE in English schools, fully inclusive of humanism, and suggested the subject should be renamed to be more inclusive too. These were all proposals we put to it, with our representative to the RE Council serving as a Commissioner. We also took a legal challenge against a Council that refused to admit a humanist as a member of its local RE body, resulting in victory for us when the council withdrew after we got permission from the Court to proceed with the case.
The latest British Social Attitudes Survey found that 53% of British adults are non-religious – a record high. This included 71% of 18-24 year olds, versus just 3% being Church of England. We also for the first time conducted polling to find out how many people have a humanist outlook in life. The figure is 22%, with 17% agreeing with this once it’s explained to them.
Denmark abolished its blasphemy law, while Ireland committed to a referendum on doing likewise (as well as on abortion), and New Zealand and Canada announced they are considering it too. We’re part of the End Blasphemy Laws campaign, which has been pushing for just this globally, and intervened in sessions at the UN Human Rights Council to advocate the same. We also discussed the matter with the Human Rights Minister, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon.
Pointless spat of the year
We survived a ‘storm in an eggcup’ over the latest attempt to politicise Easter eggs and turn this combination of a pagan fertility symbol and the modern invention of chocolate into something exclusively Christian.
We briefed our members ahead of the UK general election, providing them with intel on the views of each of the parties, as well as facilitating them in writing to their candidates – which thousands did. We did likewise before the Northern Ireland election.
Alongside Young Humanists, we published a guide for parents on their rights at schools, when it comes to religion.
Access to birth control
The General Pharmaceutical Council put an end to religious discrimination by pharmacists, instead putting service users at the centre of care for the first time. We met with them as part of this process, and facilitated supportive responses to their consultation.
Our Chief Executive addressed the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the need for clear steps to be taken to ensure free speech on campus for our affiliated Humanist Students societies.