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Criticising religion or belief must be allowed in advertising, as 16,000 people sign petition

More than 16,000 people have signed a Humanists UK petition which calls on the advertising regulator to allow criticism of religion and belief in advertising even if it causes offence.

Humanists UK, which campaigns for freedom of expression, has submitted a response to the Advertising Standards Authority’s Committee of Advertising Practice which sets out the standards of advertising in the UK and is currently consulting on offence in advertising.

In the submission, Humanists UK urges the authority to take seriously any cases of discrimination but that religion and belief must still be subject to scrutiny and criticism, even if it causes offence. It says that an attempt to curtail freedom of expression should be strongly resisted.

In the petition, it states ‘We are concerned that this change will silence well-meaning people exercising their human right to criticise and challenge ideas, whether seriously or through humour — over a decade after the UK Parliament abolished blasphemy laws in England and Wales.

‘History is littered with misguided attempts to forbid ‘offensive’ speech which have silenced those who speak truth to power and given cover to human rights-abusing states that forbid blasphemy with capital punishment.’

It adds: ‘If your concern is ensuring compliance with the Equality Act, then you should do just that – by banning adverts that discriminate, harass, or victimise under the terms of the Act, and by forbidding incitement to hatred or violence. But don’t ban all ‘religious offence’ – which goes far beyond that, shutting down much legitimate free speech.

There are 14 countries where blasphemy is punishable by death and approximately a further 40 where a person can be imprisoned. Many of these countries’ penal codes are based upon blasphemy laws that severely restrict freedom of expression.

Humanists UK Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan said: ‘We urge the advertising regulatory body to ensure that freedom of expression is protected in the UK and that we don’t clamp down on advertisers who have a necessary duty to criticise religion and beliefs in the public sphere. It is vital that we protect free speech and make sure that we don’t silence well-meaning people to exercise their human right to criticise and challenge ideas whether seriously or through humour.’

NOTES

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078.

Read our submission to the Committee of Advertising Practice.

Read more about our work on freedom of expression.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefiting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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