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Humanists UK responds to Law Commission consultation on hate crime laws

Humanists UK has responded to a consultation on reviewing hate crime legislation run by the Law Commission in England and Wales. In its response, it has argued that it should be made explicit that hate crime legislation protects humanists as well as religious people, that existing hate crime laws should be replaced with a single Hate Crime Act, but that there must be robust protections for free expression allowing criticism of religions.

The UK is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, and therefore references to religion in the law must be read as including non-religious beliefs, in accordance with articles 9 (the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and 14 (the right not to be discriminated against). To reflect this and avoid confusion, Humanists UK argues that it would be best to make explicit reference to non-religious beliefs in the legislation, by changing the wording from ‘religion’ to ‘religion or belief’.

Humanists UK has also stated its support for the Law Commission’s proposal to bring together the various reforms to hate crime laws into a single ‘Hate Crime Act’ and that equal protection should be extended to various protected characteristics of the Equality Act that are not currently considered. However, it argued that it is imperative that any new Hate Crime Act must maintain the current protections for freedom of expression which allow for the critical discussion of religion.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented,

‘We welcome the proposed reforms of hate crime legislation, provided that robust protections for free speech are maintained when it comes to criticism of religion. It is vital that all individuals are protected from hate crimes, and that prejudice-motivated crimes are effectively deterred, but this should not mean that individuals’ beliefs are also protected from criticism.

‘Further to this, there is no legal basis for new hate crime legislation which excludes humanists while protecting people with religious beliefs. Humanists are one of the most viciously attacked belief groups in the world, with over 85 countries carrying out severe and systemic persecution. Thankfully, attacks on humanists in the UK are not common. Nonetheless, it is time that the Government fully recognises their obligations to provide explicit equal protection under the law.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read more about our work on harassment and incitement.

Read our response to the Law Commission’s hate crime consultation.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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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