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Human rights and equality

We are firmly committed to the protection and promotion of human rights and equality, as exemplified in documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These rights represent shared values rooted in our common humanity and our shared human needs, transcending particular cultural and religious traditions. This regard for human rights and for the equal dignity of all human beings underpins many of our policies.

Humanist principles of justice and of valuing the dignity of each individual also lead us to support equality and oppose unwarranted discrimination. Humanists have been deeply involved in campaigning against discrimination – from homophobia to racism – for decades. Humanists have also been in the forefront of developing modern ideas of human rights, and have been prominent human rights defenders.

In depth

The first decade of the twenty-first century in the UK saw:

We were involved in advocating and supporting all of this progress and our then Chief Executive served on the UK Government’s steering group to plan for the EHRC, and on the reference group for the 2006 Equalities and Discrimination Law Reviews.

Human rights law is of particular importance to us since it establishes beyond doubt that it is unlawful to discriminate between religious and non-religious beliefs.

What we’re doing

Today, we concentrate on resolving situations where principles of human rights or equality are compromised in law or policy and where people are unfairly privileged or discriminated against because of their religion or belief. This involves defending existing protections from attack or repeal; working to end unjustified exemptions from equality and human rights law, such as many of those enjoyed by religious groups; and working for the enforcement of equality and human rights law in key areas where it is not being enforced.

For example we work for:

There are other human rights and equality issues we have worked on in recent years that have seen success, for example the 2008 repeal of the blasphemy laws in England and Wales, and the Scouts’ and Guides’ 2014 decision to admit non-religious members for the first time.

As a human rights-based charity, almost everything we work on is underpinned by human rights. Other areas of our work that also have human rights and equalities angles include our campaigns around state-funded religious schools, religious education, for public service reform, and on ethical issues such as abortion and assisted dying.

Get involved

Get in touch if you feel that you have been discriminated against on the grounds of your beliefs, whether or not you believe that the discrimination is unlawful. We would like to hear about examples of discrimination in any context. Similarly, we would like to hear about situations where non-believers are ‘forced’ to take part in religious services of any kind, are expected to pray (or expected to be present where prayers are said), or where religious symbols are displayed in what should be civic, inclusive and secular places. If you have experienced harassment or been insulted because of your humanist beliefs or lack of religious beliefs, please let us know about that as well.

We can use the examples you provide in our campaigning work, for example in submissions to Government, either in the form of figures about the incidence of discrimination, or – but only with your permission – as a specific example of discrimination. If you have a story to tell, please also let us know if we have your permission to use your name.

You can also make the Equality and Human Rights Commission aware of any examples of discrimination in any context by calling their helpline.

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

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