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Humanists call for legal protection against hate crimes in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Humanists and Faith to Faithless have called for humanists to be protected from hate crimes equally to their religious counterparts, in its submission to a review in Northern Ireland of hate crime legislation led by Judge Marrinan.

The current law covering hate crime defines ‘religious group’ as ‘a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief’. Therefore, although those with ‘lack of religious belief’ are covered, the definition does not cover hatred motivated by the holding of non-religious worldviews, such as humanism. This is at odds with human rights and equality law which positively include humanist beliefs.

Northern Ireland Humanists and Faith to Faithless have called for apostates to be explicitly named in the guidance and also for data on apostasy hate crime to be collected and reported alongside other types of hate crimes.

Compared to the situation in England and Wales, there are no explicit references in the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland’s hate crime policy document to hate crimes committed against apostates. The Crown Prosecution Service’s prosecution guidance states that the definition of sectarian hostility under ‘religious group’ covers hostility towards converts and apostates. However, this is not the case in Northern Ireland, which is what Northern Ireland Humanists is seeking to address.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator stated, ‘There are currently gaps in the hate crime framework that leads to unequal recognition and treatment of humanists and apostates. The very name “religious hatred” excludes the non-religious, which leads to poor understanding of the problems faced by non-religious people, particularly apostates, and to a subsequent under-reporting of incidents. This review is a crucial opportunity to address the flaws in current legislation and we would encourage Judge Marrinan to implement our recommendations.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Read the joint submission here.

Northern Ireland Humanists is a part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland. 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 benefitting 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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