Free speech

Libel reformTake Action
The BHA has joined calls to change UK libel laws to prevent victimisation of scientists, journalists and human rights campaigners. Current libel laws allow companies to ‘protect their reputation’ by bringing costly, unfair legal cases against those who criticise them.
Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘The BHA is pleased to add their voice to support the Libel Reform Campaign. In an open society, there must be room to have open debates about scientific issues, room to discuss human rights and room to defend free speech.’
Find out more and take action here.

We work for an open and inclusive society with freedom of belief and speech and believe that free speech is an essential liberty without which societies can slide easily into being cultures of oppression, suspicion and fear. For a more extensive discussion of this theme, see Free Speech and Incitement to Religious Hatred from the Humanist Philosophers’ Group.

What are the issues?

Incitement to Hatred
We lobbied for a number of years on the various stages of Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. Since the Religious Offences Bill was introduced in 2002, until it finally became the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006, the BHA gave written and oral evidence to parliament on incitement to religious hatred, wrote briefings and sent out press releases.

We welcome in particular the section in the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 which states:

Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system.

This makes it clear that the law is not intended to protect beliefs, but to protect people.

The outdated and discriminatory blasphemy laws were abolished when the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill received Royal Assent in May 2008.

The offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel were common law offences which were not repealed until 2008, despite the lack of social, political or judicial support for keeping them in British law. The blasphemy law was contrary to the principle of free speech and was probably contrary to human rights laws adopted by the UK, which protect freedom of expression. The law protected certain, Christian, beliefs and makes it illegal to question them or deny them. See our parliamentary briefing on the compelling reasons to abolish the blasphemy.

We monitor any new legislation for threats to free speech. We continue to oppose clauses against harassment on grounds of religion or belief in legislation, as these may lead to unwarranted free speech restrictions via the back door.

What can you do?

Watch this space for further information about attempts to restrict free speech in matters of religion and belief. Let us know of any attempts you experience or hear of.

You can also support the BHA’s campaigns by becoming a member. Campaigns also cost money – quite a lot of money – and we need your financial support. Instead, or in addition, you can make a donation to the BHA.