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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.

MPs and peers express alarm at PM’s appointment of Fiona Bruce MP as Special Envoy on Freedom of Belief

Over 20 MPs and peers from across both Houses have written to the Prime Minister regarding his recent appointment of Fiona Bruce MP as his Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief. The letter, organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, calls on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ensure Ms Bruce adopts an inclusive approach in her new role, including upholding the right to freedom of belief for the non-religious and for women and LGBT+ people, given her concerning record across these areas.

Ms Bruce was appointed the Special Envoy in late December. Humanists UK expressed alarm at her appointment given her record of seeking to undermine 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.

The letter reads:

We are writing to express our concerns at your recent appointment of Fiona Bruce MP as your Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief and ask you to urgently reconsider it for the following reasons:

Ms Bruce is a longstanding opponent of freedom of religion or belief for the non-religious. She has dedicated much time and effort to ensure teaching of non-religious worldviews is excluded in English schools. This is in defiance of court rulings that inclusive teaching is required to ensure freedom of religion or belief, and in contravention to the approach of several international agreements to which the UK is a signatory, which emphasises that such teaching is an essential part of freedom of religion or belief.

Beyond this, her views and actions on wider and related human rights, such as the human rights and right to freedom of religion or belief of women and LGBT+ people, are incompatible with this post. She is Chair of the ‘Pro-Life’ APPG and has worked for years to restrict abortion rights, which stands in stark contrast with the Government’s own policy on the human rights of women. Ms Bruce has voted against extending civil rights to same-sex couples on numerous occasions, including their right to same-sex marriage. It is clear that she does not view freedom of religion or belief as part of a wider package of human rights that are universal, indivisible, and interrelated: a crucial minimum for anyone who aspires to represent the UK.

While we acknowledge Ms Bruce’s personal right to such actions and opinions in a free and fair country, we do not consider they are aligned with the UK’s commitments on freedom of religion or belief. Global stakeholders will recognise this and her appointment will undermine the UK’s ability to advocate for human rights generally and freedom of religion or belief specifically. Accordingly we seek your urgent reassurance that your envoy will promote the interests of those who identify with humanist values, usually non-religious, and address the anxieties this appointment brings LGBT+ people given her record and who would like it confirmed for example that her views on conversion therapy mirror your own. If Ms Bruce is unable to articulate your own publicly expressed views on these matters you will surely want to reconsider this appointment altogether.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: ‘We are pleased to see MPs and peers raise concerns and seek assurances about the appointment of Fiona Bruce MP as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

‘As the letter notes, her views are legitimate in a free and fair society, but they are not consistent with the role she has been given. We urge the Prime Minister to swiftly ensure she will carry out the duties in an inclusive matter, or else reconsider the appointment.’

The All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group is a cross-party group of members of the House of Commons and Lords of all the main parties. The Group is co-chaired by Crispin Blunt MP and Baroness Bakewell. Humanists UK provides the secretariat.

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 joint letter.

The letter has been signed by the following MPs and peers:

Crispin Blunt MP
Baroness Bakewell
Tommy Sheppard MP
Clive Lewis MP
Andy Slaughter MP
Dame Angela Eagle MP
Dr Caroline Lucas MP
Rachel Hopkins MP
Hannah Bardell MP
Vivendra Sharma MP
Viscount Ridley
Baroness Barker
Lord Desai
Lord Warner
Lord Haworth
Lord Rooker
Baroness Whitaker
Baroness Murphy
Baroness Taylor of Bolton
Lord Judd
Lord Taverne QC
Baroness Burt of Solihull

Read Humanists UK’s response to Fiona Bruce MP’s appointment as Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Read more about the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group.

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.

Expert panel to discuss global challenges to secularism

Secularism: Politics, Religion, and Freedom (2017), later republished as Secularism: A Very Short Introduction

Marking three years since the publication of Secularism: Politics, Religion, and Freedom (right), by Andrew Copson, Humanists UK will on 18 January host an expert panel to discuss the themes laid out in the book, developments since publication, and what these trends might mean for the future of secularism.

The event, chaired by award-winning journalist and broadcaster Samira Ahmed will feature Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson, Associate Professor in International Human Rights Law Dr Nazila Ghanea, and Professor Tariq Modood, founding Director of the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship.

Three years after the publication of Secularism: Politics, Religion, and Freedom (later republished as Secularism: A Very Short Introduction), secularism remains a hot topic in public, political, and religious debate across the globe. It is a conflict seen in modern secular states – from France to India – and in the challenges they face from authoritarian populism and resurgent religious identity politics. The event, taking place on 18 January, will be an important discussion on where these trends are heading, of the rise of religiously intolerant states, and growing threats to secularism, human rights, and individual freedom around the world.

Tickets are available to purchase now.

Book now

Notes

Samira Ahmed is a multi-award winning journalist and broadcaster and a visiting professor of Journalism at Kingston University 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. Nazila’s research spans freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, women’s rights, minority rights and human rights in the Middle East. She has been invited to address UN expert seminars on seven occasions. Nazila has acted as a human rights consultant/expert for a number of governments, the UN, UNESCO, OSCE, the Commonwealth, the Council of Europe, and the EU. She has facilitated international human rights law training for a range of professional bodies around the world, lectured widely and carried out first hand human rights field research in a number of countries including Malaysia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. She is a regular contributor to the media on human rights matters.

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. His publications include Still Not Easy Being British: Struggles for a Multicultural Citizenship (2010); Secularism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship (2009); Tolerance, Intolerance and Respect (2013); Religion in a Liberal State (2013); and Essays on Secularism and Multiculturalism (2019). He has been Adviser to the Muslim Council of Britain and has served on the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life (2013–16).

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Jersey moves ahead with citizens’ jury to assess evidence on assisted dying

More than 4,500 residents have been invited to take part in Jersey’s citizens’ jury on assisted dying, as part of the island’s initiative to investigate the merits of a change in the law. Channel Islands Humanists has welcomed the announcement as a positive step forward towards a change in the law.

The jury, announced last year but delayed due to Covid-19, will comprise of 18-24 randomly selected members of the public, drawn from the 4,500 to be representative of the public at large. It will be tasked with reviewing in detail the evidence on assisted dying, and submitting a final recommendation to Jersey’s Assembly for debate. In a recent survey commissioned by End of Life Choices Jersey, Humanists UK’s partner in the Assisted Dying Coalition, up to 86% of islanders said they supported assisted dying for those facing incurable suffering, in at least some circumstances.

Channel Islands Humanists Chair Dave Crocker commented:

‘In a period when Covid-19 would have made it easy to allow initiatives such as this to fall by the wayside, Jersey’s Government should be congratulated for its commitment to citizenship engagement. Support for the legalisation of assisted dying has now reached a record high with nearly nine in ten people favouring a change in the law for both the terminally ill and incurably suffering, and a majority of medics favour reform too.

‘For too long, the law has been allowed to remain out of kilter with the public’s sentiment on assisted dying, and we hope this jury will set an example for lawmakers elsewhere in the UK and crown dependencies, encouraging them to now also engage with the evidence.’

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 Jersey’s Government press release

Read more about our campaign for assisted dying.

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.

Abuja High Court orders release of Nigerian Humanist Association President

Nigerian Humanist Association President Mubarak Bala.

The Federal High Court of Abuja, Nigeria has ruled that the President of the Nigerian Humanist Associaiton, Mubarak Bala, must be released immediately. Humanists UK has welcomed the ruling, and has urged Kano State to comply with it.

Bala has been held in Kano since April, after being accused of blasphemy. Kano operates under Sharia Law, and the crime of blasphemy is punishable by death. Bala was denied access to his lawyers until October. Since then the UK Government, UN officials, and UK parliamentarians have all repeatedly called for his release.

The latest Court ruling from Abuja is based on federal law, so the Kano State authorities should in theory comply with it. However, it is unclear whether they will. Humanists International has been coordinating international efforts for his release and working with his lawyers. It is presently seeking to clarify the situation.

Andrew Copson is Chief Executive of Humanists UK, and also President of Humanists International. Speaking as President, Andrew commented: ‘Today’s ruling by the High Court in Abuja is a victory for the human rights of all citizens in Nigeria. It is time our colleague Mubarak Bala was released immediately and unconditionally and we call upon leaders in Nigeria to respect due process and the rule of law.’

The Nigerian Humanist Association’s Leo Igwe commented: ‘This is welcome news, and we are cautiously optimistic about what it means. It is now imperative that the legal authorities in Nigeria comply with this ruling.’

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 Humanists International’s statement.

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.

Humanists UK condemns appointment of Fiona Bruce MP as PM’s envoy on freedom of belief

Humanists UK has expressed alarm and disappointment at the appointment of Fiona Bruce MP as the new Prime Minister’s global envoy on the human right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB). Fiona has been a committed opponent of FoRB for the non-religious at home – for many years, the most committed and active opponent in Parliament – as well as a strong opponent of the human rights of women and the human rights of LGBT people.

Her behaviour on the human rights of the non-religious includes:

  • Ms Bruce has taken action to block the teaching of non-religious worldviews in English schools, which courts have said is required by the human right to FoRB and which treaty bodies such as the OSCE, of which the UK is a member, have made clear is part and parcel of FoRB. In 2016, Fiona Bruce was elected Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on RE – an election she orchestrated without informing the then-secretariat, the RE Council, the subject association for RE. She then removed the REC as the secretariat, and held a meeting of the Group solely to amend its purpose statement from being to ‘advocate rigorous education for every young person in religious and non-religious world views’ to remove ‘and non-religious’. The vote passed – something that was then condemned by the RE Council and the National Association of Teachers of RE at the time.
  • Prior to that, in 2013, she lobbied DfE ministers against the REC’s curriculum framework for RE at key stage 1-3, opposing its equal inclusion of non-religious worldviews as it is of the major religions. And in 2014 she similarly lobbied ministers in opposition to the inclusion of non-religious worldviews in GCSE and A level RS.
  • In 2016 Fiona hosted the parliamentary launch of a report advocating that the then-mooted new Bill of Rights for the UK must be ‘based on Christianity’.
  • In 2018 she signed an early day motion calling for conscience clauses that allow medical professionals to opt out of performing abortions, on the grounds of religion, to be expanded to other procedures. This could well prevent people from accessing medical care, which could be a violation of their right to life.
  • Also in 2018, she signed an early day motion calling on the House of Commons to encourage people to pray more, so that they ‘[could] be closer to God’ – which, if it did, would be a violation of citizens’ right to freedom of religion or belief.
  • And in 2015 she signed an early day motion in favour of compulsory worship in schools, calling on the House of Commons to ‘reaffirm the position that currently exists which teaches children the importance of acknowledging God.’ This is a violation of young people’s freedom of religion or belief.

On women’s rights, Ms Bruce is, of all MPs, the most prominent and active opponent of abortion – something the UK accepts is a human right for women. She is the Chair of the ‘Pro-Life’ APPG, and has tabled several bills aimed at curtailing Britain’s abortion provisions. This is very much at odds with the UK Government’s own policy on global women’s rights, in particular as relates to sexual and reproductive health, including where it spends its development aid around the world. In 2019 Ms Bruce voted against decriminalising abortion in Northern Ireland.

On LGBT rights, in 2016 she was on the advisory panel for and spoke at the launch of another report that called for the law to be amended to require employers to accommodate the religious beliefs of employees, even if that results in discrimination against others. For example, it argued against the judgment in the case of the Christian B&B owners who weren’t allowed to refuse accommodation to a same-sex couple, and that of the Christian registrar who wasn’t allowed to refuse to perform civil partnership ceremonies. The statutory primacy that this would give to the prejudices of religious people is incompatible with the human rights framework of which FoRB is a part. Ms Bruce also voted numerous times in Parliament in 2013, 2014, and 2019 against extending the civil right to marriage to same-sex couples, both in England and Wales, and in Northern Ireland.

Ms Bruce has, on at least two occasions, spoken in Parliament about the persecution of atheists in Islamic countries. But that doesn’t offset her wider record of seeking to increase discrimination against the non-religious, particularly at home, nor her operating completely outside of the universal human rights framework in a number of policy areas that intersect with freedom of belief and conscience.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘We are not alarmed by Fiona Bruce’s appointment because we hold any personal animus against her, but because her record both shows her to be an opponent of freedom of belief for the non-religious, and as someone who does not treat freedom of religion or belief as one of a family of human rights that are universal, indivisible, and interrelated. Her actions and convictions are perfectly legitimate in a free country but they are incompatible with the UK’s stated commitments on FoRB.

‘We have written to the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary to convey our concerns and the harm that this appointment will do to FoRB both at home and abroad.’

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 Humanists UK’s letter to the Prime Minister.

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.

New report reveals how Covid-19 has led to global humanist crackdown

This world map from the Freedom of Thought Report shows Humanists International’s assessments of freedom of thought and the rights of the non-religious globally

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to many countries cracking down on humanists’ freedom of thought and expression, with some countries blaming the non-religious for the pandemic, while the restrictions imposed by many others have left closeted humanists trapped with their hostile families. Those are the findings of this year’s Freedom of Thought Report, published today by Humanists International. Humanists UK, which contributed to the report, is writing to the UK Government to alert them to the findings, and to ask them to help.

In many countries it is impossible to be openly non-religious, even in normal times. 13 maintain the death penalty for blasphemy or apostasy, with 42 more jailing people for the offence. In many countries, societal pressure also makes it very difficult or impossible to be openly humanist, with humanists being murdered in some parts of the world, even where blasphemy doesn’t come with the death penalty.

Under the pandemic, the situation has only got worse. Some countries, like Kenya and Zimbabwe, have scapegoated the non-religious as the cause; others still have used it as an excuse to persecute minorities who often happen to be humanist – for example, Kuwait, Hungary, and Poland; while others, like Azerbaijan, have introduced very broad restrictions on freedom of assembly. In Nigeria, superstition has proved a huge problem, with snake oil salesmen exploiting the pandemic for gain, while accusations of witchcraft have increased.

And in many countries that haven’t seen specific problems, the simple fact that non-religious people are trapped with their religious families can itself put them in serious danger. The Council of Ex-Muslims of Sri Lanka recently told Humanists International, ‘Most members are stressed, especially those of us that are now forced to do the five daily Islamic prayers together with their family members… At this moment, we can’t do anything as an organization since most of us ex-Muslims are in the closet, and we strictly follow the guidelines set by the government.’

Humanists International President Andrew Copson, who is also the Chief Executive of Humanists UK, commented:

‘Today our world is in the grip of a pandemic the likes of which we have not seen for a century. Governments and authorities around the world have introduced various policies of “distancing” to reduce the risk of spreading the infection. These restrictions, while completely necessary, have also had the secondary effect of undermining and destabilising the lives of those who are most vulnerable.

‘Everyone around the world has had to bear a burden, from the loss of financial security, the loss of contact with our family and friends, and the loss of certainty in a world we didn’t expect. We know that the lockdown restrictions have put some humanists who were already at risk, in a much more serious situation. We are working with many individuals who found themselves stranded in the process of fleeing harm, unable to access consular or other support services.’

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Ahmed Shaheed commented:

‘Humanists are the invisible people of the present 21st century. While almost everybody is persecuted when they are in a minority, the attacks on humanists are particularly violent. They are exposed to harm in the communities where they live, and of course, for many of them, the family is not a safe place. The pandemic therefore intensifies that.’

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.

Explore this year’s Freedom of Thought Report.

Read more about our work on international campaigns.

Humanists UK is a member of Humanists International.

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.

‘Humanism for me combines the best aspects of being human’: hundreds turn out for Little Book of Humanism launch event

Tonight, Humanists UK President Professor Alice Roberts and Chief Executive Andrew Copson spoke to an audience of 500 ticket-holders about the history of humanist ideas and activism around the world as part of a special launch event for  The Little Book of Humanism, the Sunday Times bestseller now on its sixth print run.

In a wide-ranging, fast-paced, and free-flowing discussion, the authors spoke and interrogated one another on the humanist view of life: that humans don’t need external commandments to be good, and that together we can make use of the best aspects of being human – like curiosity, reason, love, and creativity – to build a better world. They reflected that humanism contained no doctrine, but instead described a way of approaching life, questioning everything, as rational, empathetic people.

The Little Book of Humanism is available at all good bookstores.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘Claire Rayner, our former President, once mused that discovering the term “humanism” felt like coming home. She said it was like entering a dynamic conversation about life, philosophy, and ideas that had been going on for centuries. Alice and I hope that, in our own little way, our little book will help others, across the UK and around the world, to discover humanism for themselves.’

All author royalties from sales of The Little Book of Humanism go to Humanists UK’s work to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail.

Notes

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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Historian Charles Freeman demonstrates long legacy of humanist thought through the ages

Charles Freeman. Photograph: Head of Zeus

Historian and author Charles Freeman, in conversation with journalist and broadcaster Samira Ahmed, tonight delivered a stinging rebuttal to the notion that any one culture can claim credit for humanity’s progress in the last 2,000 years, in a lecture delivered via Zoom to an audience of 1000.

Freeman drew on his books The Closing of the Western Mind and The Awakening: A History of the Western Mind AD 500–1700 to highlight the way in which humanist thoughts from the pre-Christian world were rediscovered and, together with developments in science, exploration, and trade, kick-started the modern world.

The event was a first in Humanists UK’s 125-year history: a live, online event open to anyone, everywhere and people attended from as far afield as South America, Japan, and Australia.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said,

‘We know humanist thought was enormously influential in ancient Europe, India, and China, and later in the European and global Enlightenment, in the discovery and creation of the scientific method thousands of years later. In filling in the blanks in between these periods, Charles tonight demonstrated how humanism, reason, and compassion have shaped the world around us, and we’re delighted that people around the world were able to join us tonight to hear it.’

Notes

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.

Charles Freeman is an academic historian with wide interests in the history of European culture and thought. His latest book, The Awakening: A History of the Western Mind AD 500–1700, available now at all good bookshops.

Samira Ahmed is an award-winning journalist with 20 years’ experience in print and broadcast, and is a Visiting Professor of Journalism at Kingston University. She has presented many news and arts programmes for BBC TV and radio, including The World Tonight, PM, Sunday Morning Live, Night Waves, and The Proms.

Humanist marriage law passes in Guernsey

A new Law in Guernsey that will give legal recognition to humanist marriages has received Royal Sanction, meaning that it has completed its legislative passage and is now certain to come into force. The Marriage (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law 2020 is due to come into effect on 1 March, and is expected to do so across Guernsey, Alderney, and Sark. Channel Islands Humanists, which helped shape the legislation, has expressed delight at the news.

A humanist wedding is a non-religious ceremony conducted by a humanist celebrant who shares the beliefs and values of the couple. It differs from a civil wedding in that it is entirely personalised and reflective of the humanist beliefs and values of the couple.

The Law was passed following a public consultation that found 94% of respondents supporting legal recognition of humanist marriages. Channel Islands Humanists responded to the consultation and has been actively engaged with officials during the process. The Law follows on from Jersey giving legal recognition in 2019, Northern Ireland in 2018, Ireland in 2012, and Scotland in 2005. Last year there were more humanist than Christian marriages in Scotland, while around 9% of marriages in Ireland were humanist. That only leaves England, Wales, and the Isle of Man yet to extend legal recognition.

Guernsey-based celebrant Gary Vaudin, who is also a committee member of Channel Islands Humanists, commented: ‘We’re delighted that humanist marriages are set to gain legal recognition in Guernsey. The States consultation on the matter showed overwhelming public support for this change, which means that non-religious people will finally have a form of marriage that can reflect their own beliefs and values.

‘We look forward to working with officials until this law comes into force on 1 March.’

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 States of Guernsey announcement of the new Law.

Read more about our campaigns work on humanist marriages.

Channel Islands Humanists is a part of 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 UK announces online event on ‘Humanism and the Age of Reason’

Humanists UK last night announced its first ever fully online public event, The Awakening: Humanism and the Age of Reason, a discussion between Charles Freeman, historian and author of The Awakening, and journalist and broadcaster Samira Ahmed.

The Awakening: Humanism and the Age of Reason
27 November, 19:30 (UK time)

With geography no barrier to attendance, hundreds of Humanists UK members and supporters have already bought tickets for the event overnight – including buyers from across Europe, the United States, and Japan – making it one of Humanists UK’s fastest-selling events to date.

In recent years, a succession of authors have tried to mount a case for the Christian heritage of the West. Sometimes they argue that Christianity is the fount of all that is good in this world, or for the supremacy of Christian values over all others today. But these partial accounts of history, starting just 2,000 years ago, may miss the real story of human thought and achievement until now.

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In The Awakening, Charles Freeman starts earlier – much earlier – in the history of the West, and charts how the refashioning of this history has shaped the world we live in and our understanding of our values. In this account of history, no religion or social movement can take credit for all of human achievement. Instead, the story presents as one of continuous learning, experimentation, and discovery, carried aloft through the ages, and spreading like never before with the development of new technologies, from the Middle Ages until now.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘Humanist thought and enlightenment values can be traced throughout history and have had a profound impact on society. Too often however, the humanist roots of transformative new ideas have been overlooked. We’re excited to hear Charles’ talk and about the opportunity to shine a spotlight on how rational and empathetic approaches to life have always shaped our world.’

Notes

The Awakening: Humanism and the Age of Reason will take place on Zoom on Friday 27 November, at 19:30 (UK time). Tickets are on sale for just £5.

Humanists UK calls for states with death penalty for blasphemy to follow Sudan’s lead

In its latest intervention at the UN Human Rights Council, Humanists UK has commended Sudan for abolishing the death penalty for apostasy earlier this year, and called on other countries with the death penalty for apostasy or blasphemy to do likewise. However, Humanists UK has also called on Sudan to go further and decriminalise apostasy entirely, and to enhance women’s rights.

In an intervention made by video during the ‘interactive dialogue’ with the UN’s Independent Expert on Sudan, Humanists UK’s Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan commented:

‘The transitional Government’s commitment to creating a secular constitution has been a significant step in realising [the right to freedom of religion or belief]. Further reforms, including ending the use of public flogging as a form of punishment, and allowing non-Muslims to consume alcohol, have mitigated some of the most extreme aspects of the Shari’a Law-influenced criminal justice system.

‘Sudan has shown that even in a conservative religious country, and in the face of opposition from Islamist extremists, the protection of religion or belief is possible. We hope that the repeal of the death penalty for apostasy will inspire the Governments of Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Malaysia, the Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, the UAE, and Yemen to do likewise.’

However, she also asked ‘what more can be done… to ensure that apostasy and “religious insult” are both fully decriminalised and that Sudan signs up to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women?’

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 intervention.

Watch the intervention. 

Read Humanists UK’s previous statement on Sudan abolishing the death penalty for apostasy.

Read more about our work on international campaigns.

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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