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Victory! Scotland to repeal its blasphemy law as Bill passes final hurdle

Humanist Society Scotland led the successful campaign for the repeal of the blasphemy law.

Scotland is set to repeal its blasphemy law, after the Scottish Parliament voted the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill through its final stage of debate. Humanists UK has welcomed the news as a victory for free speech of global significance, and congratulated its sister charity Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) for spearheading the successful campaign for repeal.

The vote leaves Northern Ireland as the only part of the UK still to have a blasphemy law. Northern Ireland Humanists is currently campaigning for its repeal.

In 2015, humanists from around the world came together to found the End Blasphemy Laws campaign, spearheaded by Humanists International. Since then, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, the Republic of Ireland, Malta, France, New Zealand, Canada, and Greece have repealed their blasphemy laws, with Scotland now set to join them.

HSS Chief Executive Fraser Sutherland commented:

‘The importance of the passage of the Act, and with it the repeal of Scotland’s common law offence of blasphemy, will resonate with humanists both in Scotland and around the world. This has been a long-standing campaign of the Society and part of a global effort to rid the world of blasphemy laws in every country, and we work very closely with our humanist compatriots across the world to achieve this.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘We congratulate Humanist Society Scotland, the Scottish Government, and the Scottish Parliament for the repeal of Scotland’s blasphemy law.

‘The repeal of blasphemy laws in the West is important because countries that actively use their blasphemy laws often justify their existence by pointing to similar laws elsewhere. 13 countries have the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy. Last year Sudan became the first such country in recent years to repeal its death penalty, showing that international pressure is working.’

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented:

‘Northern Ireland now stands alone in the UK and Ireland in still having blasphemy laws. We urge the Executive and Assembly to build on Ireland and Scotland’s recent repeals, and join the 10 countries that have removed their own laws in the last six years.’

Hate crime reforms

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act will also update Scotland’s hate crime laws, bringing them more into line with equivalent laws in England and Wales. Humanists UK helped HSS in its successful campaign to make sure robust free speech protections will form part of the Act. The result is that the Bill is very different from the one that was presented originally. Free speech provisions have been strengthened, and a good balance struck on requiring intention to stir up hatred and abuse before possible prosecution.

People can only be prosecuted if ‘a reasonable person would consider to be threatening or abusive’, and the law also provides that behaviour cannot be judged to be threatening or abusive if it relates to ‘discussion or criticism relating to, or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule or insult towards religion, whether religions generally or a particular religion; religious beliefs or practices, whether religious beliefs or practices generally or a particular religious belief or practice; the position of not holding religious beliefs, whether religious beliefs generally or a particular religious belief’ proselytising; or urging of persons to cease practising their religions.’

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 Humanist Society Scotland’s statement.

Read more about our work on blasphemy laws in Northern Ireland.

Read more about our international campaigns.

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.

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

Vaccine creator Professor Sarah Gilbert delivers Rosalind Franklin Lecture to thousands

Samira Ahmed virtually presents the Rosalind Franklin Medal to Professor Sarah Gilbert, via Zoom.

Samira Ahmed presents the Rosalind Franklin Medal to Professor Sarah Gilbert

Professor Sarah Gilbert, Oxford Project Leader of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine tonight delivered the Rosalind Franklin Lecture 2021, ‘Racing against the virus’ in an event viewed by around 2,000 people worldwide and chaired by multi-award-winning journalist Samira Ahmed.

Sarah’s lecture delivered a brief history of the science of vaccination, before recounting the astonishing progress of the last year, and the deft speed and rigour which brought about the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which has since contributed to the vaccination of more than 21 million people across the UK.

Prof. Sarah Gilbert with her Rosalind Franklin Medal, standing in front of a statue of Edward Jenner at the Jenner Institute.

Prof. Sarah Gilbert with her Rosalind Franklin Medal.

Following the lecture and an expansive question and answer session, Samira ‘virtually’ awarded Sarah with the Humanists UK Rosalind Franklin Medal, for her careful, diligent, and life-saving work in creating the vaccine, and her ongoing public science communication work.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘When Rosalind Franklin discovered the structure of DNA in 1952, she could scarcely have foreseen that almost seventy years later, her work and the work that came after her would be used to save potentially tens of millions of lives from the effects of a pandemic. Sarah Gilbert is one of those who have helped to do so. All of us at Humanists UK and I’m sure across the country feel a profound gratitude to her, and marvel at the application of science and human ingenuity to this most inhuman problem.’

The Rosalind Franklin Lecture was recorded as is now available to watch on YouTube.

Notes

About Professor Sarah Gilbert

Sarah Gilbert is Professor of Vaccinology in the Nuffield Department of Medicine (NDM) at the University of Oxford. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of East Anglia and her doctoral degree at the University of Hull. Following four years as a research scientist at the biopharmaceutical company Delta Biotechnology she joined Oxford University in 1994 and became part of the Jenner Institute (within NDM) when it was founded in 2005. Her chief research interest is the development of viral-vectored vaccines that work by inducing strong and protective T and B cell responses.

She works on vaccines for many different emerging pathogens, including influenza, Nipah, MERS, Lassa, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, and SARS-CoV-2. Working with colleagues in the Jenner Institute research labs, the Clinical Biomanufacturing Facility and Centre for Clinical Vaccinology and Tropical Medicine, all situated on the Old Road Campus in Oxford, she is able to take novel vaccines from design to clinical development, with a particular interest in the rapid transfer of vaccines into manufacturing and first in human trials. She is the Oxford Project Leader for ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, a promising vaccine against the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which has since been used to vaccinate millions of British adults in the first weeks of the national vaccine rollout.

About Samira Ahmed

Samira Ahmed is a multi-award winning journalist and broadcaster with a special focus on culture, politics, and social change. She won Audio Broadcaster of the Year at the 2020 British Press Guild Awards for her work as a presenter of Front Row on Radio 4 and her podcast How I Found My Voice.

About the Rosalind Franklin Lecture series

Marking International Women’s Day, this explores and celebrates the contribution of women towards the promotion and advancement of aspects of humanism in the UK and around the world. The Rosalind Franklin medallist has made a significant contribution in one of these fields.

The lecture and medal are named for Rosalind Franklin, humanist and scientist, whose contribution to science for many years went unacknowledged on account of her sex but who is today rightly celebrated.

About Humanists UK

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.

Humanists launch Humanist Climate Action with call to plant trees

Humanist Climate Action is a volunteer-led network of Humanists UK members and supporters who want to take action on climate change.

Sign up to Humanist Climate Action to hear more about its events and activities.

Humanists UK members and supporters have come together to announce Humanist Climate Action (HCA), a new volunteer-led network that will ensure that the non-religious have a voice in the major environmental debates that define our time – ‘for the one planet we have’. It will campaign for environmentally-friendly policies and encourage humanists everywhere to adopt greener lifestyles, following the best available scientific evidence. As its first action, the HCA is encouraging humanists to plant trees and share a video or photo by Earth Day on 22 April.

The tree each person plants could be a mighty Oak in a field or a small Bonsai in a pot. The point is to get as many humanists as possible planting. This will be followed by a formal launch event in May, where HCA will share the videos and photos. With Covid-19 restrictions in place, HCA has produced some guidance on how people can still be involved in tree-planting safely in their area, as well as on how best to plant a tree.

Humanists, by definition, are guided by reason and science and recognise a moral duty towards the welfare of our fellow beings and the natural world. This leads many humanists to believe they have a duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure and sustainable manner.

Humanist Climate Action’s Chair Phil Walder commented, ‘Humanist Climate Action is a volunteer-run network that focuses on campaigning for meaningful change to protect our environment and prevent the devastating consequences of climate change. It will not only develop humanist environmental activists but provide the evidence and advice needed to help humanists adopt more sustainable lifestyles –  for the one planet we have.’

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 Humanist Climate Action.

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.

New report reveals vast extent of global non-religious persecution

A new report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (APPG for FoRB) has today highlighted the vast global persecution faced by non-religious people, identifying particularly grave problems in many countries around the world. Humanists UK has welcomed the report, and commended it as a resource for decision-makers in their efforts to combat freedom of belief violations.

13 countries have the death penalty for blasphemy or apostasy, and in dozens more it is a criminal offence to be openly non-religious. Highlighting these problems, the report says:

  • On Iran: ‘For atheists and secularists, the expression of non-religious views has been severely persecuted in Iran and is rendered practically impossible due to severe social stigma. It is also likely to be met with hatred or violence. In Iran it is illegal to declare oneself to be an atheist or non-religious. In February 2017, Professor Ahmadreza Djalali, who worked for the Free University in Brussels, was arrested and threatened with the death sentence by Iranian security forces, who accused him of “collaborating with scientists from hostile nations” and “enmity against God”. Since his arrest his physical and mental condition has worsened and reports in November 2020 suggest his execution is imminent. Reports indicate that the period of the COVID-19 crisis has witnessed a ratcheting up of the substantive and wide-ranging denial of freedom of religion or belief to members of recognised and non-recognised religious communities as well as secular or atheist Iranians.’
  • On Nigeria: ‘The treatment of the non-religious in Nigeria is also severe. Mubarak Bala, President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was rescued in 2014 from a psychiatric ward where he was detained on the grounds that he was an atheist. He was detained again in April 2020, alleged to have insulted the Prophet in his Facebook posts. After continued obstruction by the Nigerian authorities, he was allowed to meet his legal representative in October 2020. His case has been repeatedly postponed.’
  • On Pakistan: ‘The non-religious are targeted by state actors and vigilante groups alike. There is a rising intolerance against liberal/progressive and atheist bloggers and authorities have failed to provide a safe environment. The government designates religious affiliation on identity documents such as passports and in national identity card applications. Applicants must state their religion when applying for a passport. “No Religion” is not accepted as an answer. Gulalai Ismail, a leading human rights activist [and humanist], was forced to flee from Pakistan in 2019. She was persecuted in 2019 for speaking out against sexual assaults and disappearances carried out by the Pakistani military. Ever since she relocated to the United States, her family in Pakistan have been subjected to increasing threats, harassment and intimidation from local security forces.’
  • On Saudi Arabia: ‘Non-Muslim religious minorities and atheists are forbidden from practising or expressing their beliefs in public… Liberals, freethinkers and atheists are often victim of arrest, torture and, in some cases, awarded the death penalty. Raif Badawi is the prisoner of conscience who has been in prison since 2012 for having liberal and dissenting views. Ahmad Al Shamri and Ashraf Fayadh are imprisoned for promoting atheist ideas and dissenting culture.’
  • On Bangladesh: ‘The environment is authoritative and regressive inclining towards religious nationalism. The lack of democratic values and a brutal crackdown against secular and atheist bloggers and dissidents has created a culture of impunity that not only limits freedom of religion or belief but also places minorities under a constant threat of violence and discrimination. Oppressive laws, like the Digital Security Act (DSA) that criminalises blasphemy as a non-bailable offence, continue to harass and threaten religious minority groups and the non-religious, paving the way for extremist elements to target and attack them. 64 Incidents of mob lynching have increased. There are reports that suggest that the authorities are either sympathetic to the vigilantes or lack the competence to deal with them. In July 2020, police indicated that seeking to arrest human rights activist and secular blogger Asaduzzaman Noor, also known as Asad Noor, after new criminal charges were brought against him under the Digital Security Act on July 14 for “spreading rumours” and “defaming Islam” via a Facebook video… In recent years, dissidents and activists have face enforced disappearances that has created a threat to atheists, and secular bloggers in particular, but also religious minorities in general.’
  • On Egypt: ‘While the constitution declares that “freedom of belief is absolute”, it only allows this freedom for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. There are severe penalties for declaring oneself to be an atheist, including up to five years’ imprisonment, and a new law is being drawn up to criminalise atheism. It is illegal to register an explicitly humanist, atheist, secularist, or other non-religious NGO and those that attempt it face harassment from the authorities. One of the most visible signs of discrimination against atheists, apostates from Islam and members of minority religions is the policy concerning the Egyptian State ID cards, which include a section on religion where only one of the three “divine religions” can be recognised. It is in practice almost impossible to change the designation from ‘Muslim’ on the ID card. Concerning atheists and agnostics, they are “one of Egypt’s least-protected minorities”, according to Human Rights Watch, and there has been a prolonged campaign to turn “youth” away from atheism, with several prominent atheists arrested and convicted. In June 2020, activist and blogger Anas Hassan was convicted and sentenced on appeal to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 300,000 EGP (approximately $ 19,144) for managing the Facebook page ‘The Egyptian atheists’ which allegedly criticized the “divinely revealed religions”.’
  • On Iraq: ‘Humanists, atheists and secularists are the focus of particularly pernicious repression. There is a pattern of impunity or collusion in violence by state actors against the non-religious. They are considered to be ‘apostasizers and blasphemers’. The Iraqi Penal Code criminalises blasphemy with up to three years imprisonment. Members of other faiths and those identifying as agnostics, atheists, humanists are not able to record their faith identity on national ID cards.’
  • On Afghanistan: ‘blasphemy and apostasy laws significantly undermine freedom for people of other faiths [other than Islam] and none.’
  • On Malaysia: ‘Apostasy laws forbid conversion from Islam in all but one state.’
  • On Turkey: ‘Turkey’s long-standing freedom of religion or belief problems impact groups and individuals from diverse religious or belief backgrounds as well as atheists and agnostics… measures must be taken to ensure that the education system respects the right of parents to raise their children in line with their religious or philosophical views (this impacts, among others, Alevis, atheist and agnostics, Sunni Muslims critical of school teaching on religion)… the religious identification on national ID cards must be removed.’
  • On Sudan – more positively: ‘On 12 July 2020, Sudan abolished the [death penalty for] apostasy law, public flogging and alcohol ban for non-Muslims. “We [will] drop all the laws violating the human rights in Sudan,” Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari said.’ Although in fact Sudan still criminalises apostasy, just not with death.’

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented:

‘In many countries, persecution of the non-religious is vicious to the extreme, so much so that it is impossible to be openly non-religious at all. We welcome this report as highlighting these problems and urge UK decision-makers to do whatever they can to combat the issues raised.’

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 the report.

Read the APPG for FoRB’s statement.

Read more about our work on international issues.

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.

Over 3,000 people attend largest-ever Darwin Day Lecture, on ‘the new science of right and wrong’

Dr Oliver Scott Curry receives the Darwin Day Lecture medal, presented by Professor Alice Roberts.

Dr Oliver Scott Curry tonight delivered the Darwin Day Lecture 2021, ‘Morality Explained: the new science of right and wrong’, in an event viewed by over 3,000 people worldwide and chaired by Humanists UK President Alice Roberts.

Following the lecture and an expansive question and answer session, Alice presented Oliver with the Humanists UK Darwin Day Medal for his efforts to understand the evolution of morality, and how we can use that knowledge to make the world a kinder, more rational, more tolerant place.

Oliver’s lecture explored the scientific evidence for the origins of moral behaviour not only in humans, but across the animal world. He refuted the ‘creationist’ idea of morality and demonstrated that morality is instead something with its roots in our evolved biology. Describing seven universal moral principles, he showed that these recur across time and in all human societies, although they are applied in different contexts, and refuted the idea that they are culturally specific, as too many have recently claimed.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘Humanist thinkers have long deduced from looking at human and animal societies that morality isn’t something handed down from on high, but a product of our practical existence as social animals. Dr Curry’s research provides even clearer evidence that this is true.

‘I’m delighted that more people than ever before were able to join us to mark the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, whose groundbreaking work demonstrated that we are one human family, separated from all other creatures only by the passage of time. We look forward to being able to welcome everyone back, in person, next year.’

The next event in Humanists UK’s annual lecture series is the Rosalind Franklin Lecture, to be delivered by vaccinologist Professor Sarah Gilbert and chaired by broadcaster Samira Ahmed. The event, ‘Racing against the virus’, will take place on Friday 5 March, marking International Women’s Day.

The Darwin Day Lecture was recorded and will be uploaded to YouTube at a later date.

Notes

About Dr Oliver Scott Curry

Curry’s academic research investigates the nature, content and structure of human morality, and encompasses all of the questions above. To reach the answers, he employs a range of techniques from philosophy, experimental and social psychology, and comparative anthropology. His work argues that morality is best understood as a collection of biological and cultural solutions to the problems of cooperation and conflict recurrent in human social life.

Dr Oliver Scott Curry is Research Director for Kindlab, at kindness.org. He is also a Research Affiliate at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford, and a Research Associate at the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, at the London School of Economics. He received his PhD from LSE in 2005.

About Professor Alice Roberts

Professor Alice Roberts has been President of Humanists UK since January 2019. She is Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham, Director of Anatomy for the NHS Severn Deanery School of Surgery, and holds honorary fellowships at Hull, York Medical School, and the University of Bristol.

She is an honorary fellow of the British Science Association, a member of the Advisory Board of the Cheltenham Festival of Science, Patron of the Association of Science and Discovery Centres, and a member of the Council of the British Heart Foundation.

She combines her academic career with one as a science presenter on television. She has appeared as a human bone specialist on Channel 4’s Time Team and in various projects on BBC2, including Coast, Don’t Die Young, The Incredible Human Journey, Wild Swimming, Digging for Britain, Horizon, and Origins of Us.

About the Darwin Day Lecture series

The Darwin Day Lecture explores humanism and humanist thought as related to science and evolution, Charles Darwin, or his works. The Darwin medallist has made a significant contribution in one of these fields.

The lecture and medal are named and held to mark the annual global celebration of the birth of Charles Darwin, held every 12 February.

About Humanists UK

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.

Vaccinologist Sarah Gilbert to give Humanists UK Franklin Lecture: ‘Racing against the virus’

Sarah Gilbert, Professor of Vaccinology and Oxford Project Leader for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, has been announced as the 2021 Rosalind Franklin Lecturer and medallist. The Rosalind Franklin Lecture is Humanists UK’s annual event marking International Women’s Day.  The lecture will take place on the evening of 5 March and is to be chaired by multi-award-winning journalist and broadcaster, Samira Ahmed.

BOOK NOW

At time of writing, more than 12 million British adults have received a first dose of a vaccine – no small number of those will be the one designed and created by Gilbert’s team. In her lecture, ‘Racing against the virus’, she will chart the incredible work that went into bringing about this life-saving vaccine – and why the race against the virus is not yet won.

First hosted by Humanists UK in 2016, the Rosalind Franklin Lecture has fully established itself as a key part of the Humanists UK calendar. The lecture is timed to coincide with International Women’s Day, and is named after Rosalind Franklin, the pioneering chemist who was so crucial to the discovery of the unique double helix structure of DNA.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘The innovative work of Sarah and her team has saved many lives and will yet save many more. She is not just a Rosalind Franklin medallist for these times of Covid-19 but, through her rigorous and life-changing research, represents the timeless ideals associated with one of British science’s great pioneers.’

Humanists UK is participating whole-heartedly in national efforts to support the vaccine roll-out and overcome fake news and so-called ‘vaccine hesitancy’. It recently released data which suggested that 95% of its members intended to take the vaccine when offered.

Tickets are £7, and you can get yours at humanists.uk/franklin2021

Notes

About Professor Sarah Gilbert

Sarah Gilbert is Professor of Vaccinology in the Nuffield Department of Medicine (NDM) at the University of Oxford. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of East Anglia and her doctoral degree at the University of Hull. Following four years as a research scientist at the biopharmaceutical company Delta Biotechnology she joined Oxford University in 1994 and became part of the Jenner Institute (within NDM) when it was founded in 2005. Her chief research interest is the development of viral-vectored vaccines that work by inducing strong and protective T and B cell responses.

She works on vaccines for many different emerging pathogens, including influenza, Nipah, MERS, Lassa, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, and SARS-CoV-2. Working with colleagues in the Jenner Institute research labs, the Clinical Biomanufacturing Facility and Centre for Clinical Vaccinology and Tropical Medicine, all situated on the Old Road Campus in Oxford, she is able to take novel vaccines from design to clinical development, with a particular interest in the rapid transfer of vaccines into manufacturing and first in human trials. She is the Oxford Project Leader for ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, a promising vaccine against the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which received approval for use in the UK in late 2020.

About Samira Ahmed

Samira Ahmed is a multi-award winning journalist and broadcaster with a special focus on culture, politics, and social change. She won Audio Broadcaster of the Year at the 2020 British Press Guild Awards for her work as a presenter of Front Row on Radio 4 and her podcast How I Found My Voice.

About the Rosalind Franklin Lecture

Marking International Women’s Day, the Rosalind Franklin Lecture explores and celebrates the contribution of women towards the promotion and advancement of aspects of humanism in the UK and around the world. The Rosalind Franklin medallist has made a significant contribution in one of these fields.

The lecture and medal are named after Rosalind Franklin, humanist and scientist, whose contribution to science for many years went unacknowledged on account of her sex but who is today rightly celebrated.

Foreign Office reaffirms its commitment to non-religious, women’s, and LGBT rights

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon. Image copyright Home Office.

Foreign Office Human Rights Minister Lord Ahmad has written to Humanists UK giving reassurances of the UK Government’s commitment to the human rights of humanists, women, and LGBT people, in response to concerns over the Prime Minister’s appointment of Fiona Bruce MP as his Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Humanists UK has welcomed Lord Ahmad’s assurances.

Ms Bruce was appointed the Special Envoy in late December. Humanists UK expressed alarm at her appointment given her record of opposing the right to freedom of belief of the non-religious, women’s, and LGBT people. For example, she has worked to block the teaching of humanism in the curriculum, signed an EDM calling on the House of Commons to encourage people to pray to be ‘closer to God’, chairs the ‘Pro-Life’ APPG, which seeks to deny women freedom of conscience in abortion, and voted against the decriminalisation of abortion in Nothern Ireland, and against giving same-sex couples the civil right to marriage, in 2019. In January, over 20 MPs and peers wrote to the Prime Minister to express similar worries.

Lord Ahmad wrote to Humanists UK saying:

‘The UK is committed to defending freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) for all, and promoting respect between different religious and non-religious communities. Promoting the right to FoRB is one of the UK’s longstanding human rights priorities. Human rights are universal and apply equally to all people. We are opposed to all forms of discrimination, and work to uphold the rights and freedoms of women and girls (including their sexual and reproductive health and rights), and of LGBT people in all circumstances.

‘We are deeply concerned about the severity and scale of violations and abuses of FoRB in many parts of the world. Religious intolerance and persecution are often at the heart of foreign and development policy challenges. Where FoRB is under attack, other human rights are often threatened too. That is why we ensure our human rights policy work considers the intersectionality of human rights, for example the importance of addressing the specific issues which may be experienced by women from religious minority communities.’

Welcoming his comments, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘We very much welcome Lord Ahmad’s words of reassurance, and the Government’s commitment to the full human rights and equality of humanists, LGBT people, and women. We are still concerned that the Special Envoy is someone who has not, in the past, shared that commitment, but we look forward to working with her in her new role as she turns the Government’s commitments into concrete action.’

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 Lord Ahmad’s letter.

Read our previous statements about Fiona Bruce’s appointment and 20+ MPs and peers writing to the Prime Minister in protest about it.

Read more about our work on international campaigns.

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.

95% of respondents to Humanists UK member survey say they will get vaccinated against Covid-19

95% of Humanists UK members who responded to a survey say they are likely or very likely to get vaccinated against Covid-19, when offered. Humanists UK is encouraging all adults to get vaccinated against Covid-19 if they are medically able to.

Humanists UK sent a survey to its 100,000 members and supporters, and asked them, amongst other things, ‘How likely are you to have the coronavirus vaccine when offered?’ Around 3,500 responded to this question. Amongst members, 92% said they were very likely, 3% somewhat likely, 1% unsure, 1% somewhat unlikely, and 3% very unlikely. Amongst members and registered supporters taken together, 88% said they were very likely, 4% somewhat likely, 2% unsure, 1% somewhat unlikely, and 5% very unlikely.

Respondents were also asked to give reasons for their response. Responses to this question suggest that around 1% of members and supporters will not be vaccinated simply because they have a legitimate medical exemption (for example because they have had a serious allergic reaction to a vaccine in the past).

The respondents may not be representative of Humanists UK’s members or supporters as a whole. But the notion that humanists are more likely to get vaccinated than the population as a whole is backed up by wider evidence from YouGov. A November poll found that 66% of British adults said they would have the Covid vaccine, versus 15% saying they would not. But this rose to 71% of those with humanist beliefs saying they would be vaccinated, versus 10% saying they would not. (A later January YouGov poll for the Times found that 81% of British adults now say they would have the Covid vaccine, versus 13% saying they would not – suggesting that support for the vaccine has gone up in recent months – although separate humanist figures are not available for the January poll.)

Humanists UK President and biologist Professor Alice Roberts commented:

‘I know that some people are thinking about whether or not to be vaccinated. I have looked at the science, and listened to the advice of colleagues whose medical expertise I trust. The indications are that there is no reason to be worried about the new Covid vaccines compared with other vaccines. They’ve been developed and released quickly – but that simply reflects the enormous investment that’s been put into them. In fact, it shows us all what can be done – and gives us great hope for treating other diseases that cause enormous suffering around the world, in the future.

‘When making a decision about vaccination, it’s extremely important to think about the harmful effects of contracting the virus itself – suffering with a bad infection, ending up with long Covid, or even dying. Although it’s not clear yet whether the vaccine will prevent transmission, there’s every reason to predict that it will, based on what we know about other vaccines. This means that even if you’re young and very healthy, and think you have a low risk of being badly affected by catching Covid, getting yourself vaccinated will help to protect more vulnerable people in our society. And that of course reminds me of the motto of Humanists UK: Think for yourself, act for everyone.

‘It’s a very personal choice of course. But I will be getting the vaccine as soon as I’m offered it.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘Humanists look to science in understanding the universe and determining the right course of action, and here it is clear that everyone getting vaccinated if they are able to do so is the way out of the pandemic. It is welcome to see this approach borne out in these figures.

‘We encourage all adults who are able to get vaccinated to do so, when asked to by the NHS. Even those at low risk of getting seriously ill with coronavirus should get vaccinated because of the risk of their passing it on to others. The evidence shows that the vaccines are safe and effective, and that evidence has been through randomly-controlled trials that are independent of government and of the highest standard. The trial process may have been faster than with other vaccinations, but it has not been to a lower standard. The speed merely reflects the seriousness of this pandemic and the unprecedented resources that have been put into developing these vaccines as a result.’

The only exemptions to the NHS vaccination programme are most pregnant women and children, on whom the vaccines have not yet been tested, and those who have a legitimate medical exemption, for example because they have had a serious allergic reaction to a vaccine in the past.

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.

All figures given in the fourth paragraph are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,755 adults (326 with humanist beliefs) for fieldwork undertaken in November 2020, and 1,702 adults for fieldwork undertaken in January 2021. The surveys were carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

Read our webpage about getting the coronavirus vaccine.

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.

This Darwin Day, explore the evolution of morality – and ‘the new science of right and wrong’

The Darwin Day Lecture 2021, with Dr Oliver Scott Curry on Morality Explained: The New Science of Right and Wrong. Chaired by Professor Alice Roberts.

Dr Oliver Scott Curry will deliver the Darwin Day Lecture 2021, taking place on 12 February 2021, Darwin Day itself. The event, a highlight of the humanist calendar, will take place fully online for the first time, and will be chaired by Humanists UK President Professor Alice Roberts.

This new science of right and wrong answers such questions as: How do ‘selfish genes’ make selfless people? Are there ‘genes for’ morality? When does morality emerge in children? How many moral values are there? Are there any universal moral rules, found in all cultures? How and why do individuals and societies have different moral values? And what does science tell us about how we ought to behave?

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Curry argues that the answers to these questions show that Darwin was on the right track, when he wrote, in 1871’s Descent of Man, that ‘the so-called moral sense is originally derived from the social instincts, and that morality is deeply rooted in human nature, and part of our evolutionary heritage – a hopeful message in a year when we have relied on one another more than usual, to overcome the common challenge of covid.

Dr Oliver Scott Curry is Research Director for Kindlab, at kindness.org. He is also a Research Affiliate at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford, and a Research Associate at the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, at the London School of Economics.

The Darwin Day Lecture 2021 will be held online, with a majority of the event devoted to questions from the audience – expected to be among the largest Darwin Day Lecture audiences to date. Tickets are available from humanists.uk/darwinday2021, priced at £7 per household.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said,

‘Charles Darwin’s contributions demonstrated that we are all one human family, itself a tiny twig on the larger tree of life, and we celebrate Darwin Day each year to mark that revolutionary idea. We’re delighted to see demand for the Darwin Day Lecture as strong as ever, and look forward to welcoming thousands from around the world on 12 February.’

Notes

Tickets for the Darwin Day Lecture 2021 (Morality Explained: The New Science of Right and Wrong) with Dr Oliver Scott Curry, chaired by Professor Alice Roberts, are available to purchase at humanists.uk/darwinday2021.

About Dr Oliver Scott Curry

Oliver’s academic research investigates the nature, content and structure of human morality. He employs a range of techniques from philosophy, experimental and social psychology, and comparative anthropology. His work argues that morality is best understood as a collection of biological and cultural solutions to the problems of cooperation and conflict recurrent in human social life, and he will explore some of that work and the evidence for his ideas in the Darwin Day Lecture 2021.

In addition to his research, Oliver has taught courses on evolution and human behaviour, covering evolutionary theory, animal behaviour, evolutionary psychology, cross-cultural psychology, statistics and research methods.

About Professor Alice Roberts

Professor Alice Roberts has been President of Humanists UK since January 2019. She is Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham, Director of Anatomy for the NHS Severn Deanery School of Surgery, and holds honorary fellowships at Hull, York Medical School, and the University of Bristol.

She is an honorary fellow of the British Science Association, a member of the Advisory Board of the Cheltenham Festival of Science, Patron of the Association of Science and Discovery Centres, and a member of the Council of the British Heart Foundation.

About the Darwin Day Lecture Series

The Darwin Day Lecture explores humanism and humanist thought as related to science and evolution, Charles Darwin, or his works. The Darwin medallist has made a significant contribution in one of these fields.

The lecture and medal are named and held to mark the annual global celebration of the birth of Charles Darwin, held every 12 February.

About Humanists UK

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.

‘Secularism means freedom to choose how to live your life’: over 500 join tonight’s event on secularism around the world

Secularism: A Very Short Introduction

Secularism: A Very Short Introduction, by Andrew Copson (2019)

Over 500 people tonight joined the first Humanists UK event of 2021, hearing from a panel of experts about secularism around the world and the challenges it faces.

Multi-award winning journalist Samira Ahmed chaired the expert panel, including Humanists UK Chief Executive and author of Secularism: Politics, Religion, and Freedom Andrew Copson, Dr Nazila Ghanea, and Professor Tariq Modood.

The speakers evaluated the different forms and varieties of secularism around the world; from the US to France to India. They discussed the effects Joe Biden’s presidency might have on freedom of religion or belief around the world over the next four years, and challenges in nations of particular concern, such as China’s human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘Three years on from the publication of Secularism: Politics, Religion, and Freedom, the world seems a more challenging place. The continued rise of intolerant states should give us all pause for thought about where we’re heading. It is only by fostering a global sense of equality and freedom – of religion, belief, to live our lives as we wish without impinging on the rights of others – that we can create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail.’

Notes

Secularism: Politics, Religion, and Freedom, since republished as Secularism: A Very Short Introduction, is available on Amazon and in all good bookstores.

The Little Book of Humanism, authored by Andrew Copson and Alice Roberts, became a Sunday Times bestseller upon its launch in October 2020.

Samira Ahmed is a multi-award winning journalist and broadcaster with a special focus on culture, politics and social change. She won Audio Broadcaster of the Year at the 2020 British Press Guild Awards for her work as a presenter of Front Row on Radio 4 and her podcast How I Found My Voice.

Andrew Copson is Chief Executive of Humanists UK, President of Humanists International, author of Secularism: politics, religion, and freedom and, with Alice Roberts, The Little Book of Humanism.

Dr Nazila Ghanea is Associate Professor in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford. She serves as a member of the OSCE Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Professor Tariq Modood is founding Director of the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship, and is a Fellow of the British Academy in 2017. He is the co-founding editor of the international journal Ethnicities.

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.

Humanists back anti-genocide amendment ahead of Commons vote

Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani is coordinating efforts in support of the amendment. Official Commons portrait credit Chris McAndrew.

Humanists UK is supporting an amendment to the Trade Bill due to be voted on in the House of Commons tomorrow, that will enable the High Court to determine whether another country is committing genocide, and, where such a determination is reached, would revoke bilateral trade agreements between that country and the UK. The amendment, which has already been passed in the House of Lords, has been brought against the backdrop of Chinese atrocities against the Uighur people of Xinjiang province, which may well constitute genocide.

Humanists UK backed the amendment when it was first passed into the Bill in a vote of the House of Lords last month, briefing peers in favour of it. The vote in the Commons is now to decide whether the amendment will stay in the Bill, and Humanists UK is similarly briefing MPs in the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group in favour. Work on the amendment has largely been coordinated by the Coalition for Genocide Response.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘Genocide is the most serious of crimes and one that we should all do whatever we can to stamp out. But as the UK enters a new era of negotiating its own trade agreements, there is a major risk that the UK could find itself in bilateral agreements with states committing genocide, with no mechanism to revoke such agreements for this reason.

‘This amendment, if passed by the Commons, would provide such a mechanism. In so doing, it would significantly strengthen the UK Government’s ability to oppose genocide wherever it occurs, however powerful the country that is committing it is. This is why we urge MPs to vote for the amendment.’

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 our intervention at the UN Human Rights Council on the persecution of Uighurs in September.

Read more about our work on international campaigns.

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.

MPs raise persecution of humanists in India

India’s first Prime Miniser Jawaharlal Nehru, a committed humanist, was quoted by UK Government minister Nigel Adams during the debate. Design credit Alexander Taylor Design for Humanists UK.

MPs raised the plight of humanists in India in a debate in the House of Commons yesterday. Many humanists have been seriously persecuted in India. Several have been murdered in recent years for blasphemy, and people can be imprisoned for the same supposed crime. Humanists UK has welcomed their interventions.

Freedom of religion or belief has only deteriorated under the current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. What is more, the 2019 Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which received lots of publicity for not giving Muslims the same path to citizenship as those of various other religions, similarly excludes humanists/non-religious people.

In the debate, Labour MP Naz Shah referred in her comments to persecution of Sikhs and Christians, before adding, ‘Other marginalised groups such as Dalits, those of lower caste or even non-religious groups such as humanists have often been at the forefront of hate and discrimination in India.’

Her colleague Stephen Timms MP echoed that, saying ‘Government inaction has meant that mob lynching against Muslims and Dalits and violence against Christians and humanists are increasing… Every community needs to feel protected; it is not enough to protect only the majority, and the authorities in India need to act against those who perpetrate violence towards Muslims, Christians, Dalits, humanists and other religious minorities.’

Responding for the Government, Nigel Adams MP said ‘The UK is committed to defending freedom of religion or belief for all. It is one of our human rights priorities. Nobody should be excluded because of their religion or belief. Discrimination, as we all know, does terrible damage to societies.’ He then quoted India’s first Prime Minister, the humanist Jawaharlal Nehru, as saying ‘Whatever our religion or creed, we are all one people’ – before adding himself, ‘This is the foundation stone of India.’

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented: ‘We welcome these MPs’ comments on the need for freedom of religion or belief to be upheld in India for all, including the non-religious. India is one of a number of countries that have sadly seen freedom of belief deteriorating in recent years. We urge the UK Government to do whatever it can to uphold this vital right.’

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 the recent debate.

Read more about the persecution of humanists in India.

Read more about our work on international campaigns.

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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