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Support for assisted dying surging in Channel Islands and Isle of Man, according to new poll

At least eight in ten people favour assisted dying reform across Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man, according to the first poll ever conducted on the matter in the three jurisdictions. The findings have been welcomed by Humanists UK and Channel Islands Humanists. Both campaign to legalise assisted dying for the terminally ill and incurably suffering.

Island Global Research Ltd polled 2,801 adults on behalf of Dignity in Dying and found that 84% of people in Guernsey support assisted dying. 87% of people do so in the Isle of Man. And 90% of people did so in Jersey.

The news coincides with the release of an initial report from Jersey’s citizens’ jury on assisted dying. An overwhelming majority of panellists backed changing the law for the terminally ill and incurably suffering.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said: 

‘Few issues command greater popular support than the legalisation of assisted dying. This research shows, for the first time, that this support is now both overwhelming and ubiquitous across Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man.

‘We are lucky to have some of the best palliative care in the world. But it is an inescapable fact that palliative care cannot always ease everyone’s suffering. For those with either terminal and incurable illnesses, a right to die is vital because of the security it offers should their pain ever become too much to bear. With such high levels of support across Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man, we are fast approaching a tipping point in the campaign for assisted dying. It is time for the Crown dependencies’ Governments to recognise this and act.’

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.

About the poll

Island Global Research Ltd conducted the research between 10-18 May 2021 on behalf of Dignity in Dying. The total sample size was 2,801 adults (873 in Jersey, 1056 in Guernsey, and 872 in the Isle of Man). The survey was carried out online, and the figures have been weighted and are representative of all adults living in the Crown dependencies.

Read more about our campaign to legalise assisted dying. 

Read more about Channel Islands Humanists. 

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.

In 2021, Humanists UK is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a renewed focus on its history. The new website Humanist Heritage is a rich new web resource that uncovers the untold story of humanism in the UK – a story of people, groups, objects, places, movements, publications, and ideas.

78% of Jersey’s assisted dying citizens’ jury back changing the law

Jersey’s Citizens’ Jury on Assisted Dying has overwhelmingly recommended the legalisation of a right to die. Humanists UK gave oral and written expert evidence to the panel, which has published its initial report today. Humanists UK and Channel Islands Humanists have welcomed the publication as a major turning point for assisted dying. It expects the report now puts Jersey on course for a change in the law.

78% of the panellists recommended that assisted dying should be permitted for adults in Jersey. 70% recommended that it should be available to adults of sound mind, who are either terminally ill or experiencing unbearable suffering, subject to robust safeguards. This position matches Humanists UK’s.

Jersey’s citizens’ jury was convened in response to a petition started by Humanists UK’s Assisted Dying Coalition partners, End of Life Choices Jersey. It garnered support from 1,861 islanders. The panel of 23 randomly selected representative members met over a ten-week period earlier this year.

Humanists UK’s evidence centred on the importance of respecting an individual autonomy, and establishing a right to die for both those with terminal and incurable illnesses.

A final report is expected to be released later this year.

Channel Islands Humanists Committee member Deputy Louise Doublet commented:

‘We are delighted with the Citizens’ Jury’s report. A change in the law on assisted dying is the only way to respect the choice, dignity, and autonomy of Jersey citizens. Palliative care can provide many people with all the support they need. But for some of those in most dire need, assisted dying is the only option that can alleviate their suffering.

‘I’m really pleased that the process included high-quality and thought-provoking evidence from Channel Islands Humanists. I now look forward to the Government bringing an in principle debate to the Assembly to consider the recommendations of the jury. I hope it uses the same evenhanded and evidence-led approach that has got us to this point.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: 

‘The recommendations of this report mark a major turning point in the campaign for legal assisted dying. If followed they clearly put Jersey on course for a landmark change in the law. It is not right that those with terminal or incurable conditions should be forced to die without dignity or to travel to Switzerland at great expense and with a risk of prosecution hanging over their loved ones. This report recognises the brutality of this situation. It finally puts to bed concerns about the public’s level of support when they engage with the details of a change in the law.

‘This report also shows that there is no rational or ethical basis for restricting assisted dying to those with six or fewer months left to live. Instead, it shows that those who are incurably suffering should be treated with equal dignity, respect, and compassion.

‘We urge lawmakers everywhere else in the UK and crown dependencies now pick up the baton and recognise the urgent need for change.’

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 Citizens’ Jury’s report.

Jersey’s Citizens’ Jury was announced in February 2020 by Health Minister Deputy Richard Renouf. It followed an e-petition in 2018, backed by 1,861 islanders, calling for the States Assembly to amend Jersey’s law on assisted dying. The panel convened over a ten week period and heard from a range of experts, including Humanists UK. The question it considered was ‘Should assisted dying be permitted in Jersey, and if so, under what circumstances?’

The sessions were organised by the public participation charity Involve. They were commissioned to design and run the Jury including all of the participant liaison.

Read more about our campaign to legalise assisted dying.

Read more about Channel Island Humanists.

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.

In 2021, Humanists UK is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a renewed focus on its history. The new website Humanist Heritage is a rich new web resource that uncovers the untold story of humanism in the UK – a story of people, groups, objects, places, movements, publications, and ideas.

Hundreds come together for Humanists UK Convention celebrating World Humanist Day

Around 700 households joined Humanists UK’s 2021 Convention online on Saturday 19 June, making it the best-attended Convention to date. In welcoming attendees, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson took the opportunity to note the charity’s varied achievements in the previous 12 months, in the teeth of the pandemic, thanking members for their continued support and generosity.

The half-day event featured four hour-long sessions, beginning with Sathnam Sanghera and Samira Ahmed discussing the effects of the British Empire still felt today around the world and in the UK. Recognising the importance of acknowledging and understanding our histories, attendees then heard from the authors of an upcoming book on the history of humanism in the UK, and of Humanists UK itself, with Professors Callum Brown and David Nash joined by Dr Charlie Lynch, and chaired by Humanists UK’s Heritage Coordinator, Madeleine Goodall.

Jim Al-Khalili (L) and Alice Roberts (R) speaking at Humanists UK Convention 2021

Jim Al-Khalili (L) and Alice Roberts (R) speaking at Humanists UK Convention 2021

Following a break for lunch, astrophysicist Professor Stephen Smartt took viewers even deeper into the past, right back to the beginning of the universe, seeking to explain in an expansive lecture how it is that we humans are here today, capable of asking these biggest of big questions. Science communicator and former poker champion, Liv Boeree, an astrophysicist herself, teased out and distilled the essence of Stephen’s talk in a brief but brilliant discussion. The day came to a close with a keynote session with Humanists UK President Professor Alice Roberts, chaired by Vice President Professor Jim Al-Khalili, in a session that reminded attendees of our shared humanity – our shared histories, and our shared future.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘Our speaker Callum Brown said in his session on humanist history that “Secularism, rationalism, and humanism have been essential to the evolution of modern values – against racism, against inequality, against homophobia. In each of these areas, humanism has been critical.”

‘That’s what we remember in this year of our 125th anniversary. We believe it’s these values our members hold and aspire to. So many of the social changes fought for and won by humanists were built from conversations like these, events like these, discussions like these, provoking people to ask questions for themselves and develop their own ideas about the world.

‘I look forward to seeing many of you again to continue those conversations at our next Convention, in Belfast, in 2022.’

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.

Find other upcoming Humanists UK events at humanists.uk/events

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.

In 2021, Humanists UK is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a renewed focus on its history. The new website Humanist Heritage is a rich new web resource that uncovers the untold story of humanism in the UK – a story of people, groups, objects, places, movements, publications, and ideas.

Humanists and Christians urge as many as possible to get vaccinated against Covid-19

Humanist and Christian leaders have come together to urge as many people as possible to get vaccinated against Covid-19. The call is by Churches Together in England and the Scottish Church Leaders Forum on behalf of their around 60 member churches, and by prominent figures in the UK’s humanist movement. It is being made now that everyone over 30 has been offered the vaccine. It is vital that younger people get vaccinated, as even though they may be at less risk themselves, they may still present a risk to others. The call is also timed to coincide with the UK Government hosting the world’s first Global Vaccine Confidence Summit.

The humanist and Christian leaders have organised similar statements that are intended to better speak to people who share their own beliefs. The joint intervention underlines the importance of the vaccination campaign.

The humanist statement has been signed by 60 people, including high-profile humanists like Stephen Fry, Alice Roberts, Richard Dawkins, Sandi Toksvig, Jim Al-Khalili, and Polly Toynbee. It has also been signed by the Chief Executives of Humanists UK and Humanist Society Scotland, Coordinators of Wales Humanists and Northern Ireland Humanists, the Editor of New Humanist, and the officers of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group. It reads:

As humanists we hold a wide variety of beliefs and don’t always agree about everything. But we are united in believing that it is essential that as many people as possible are vaccinated against Covid-19.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been devastating to our communities. It has led to significant loss of life and has caused vast disruption to everyone’s daily lives. It has disrupted weddings, other rites of passage, and sometimes meant that people have had to put their whole life plans on hold. The toll all this disruption has had on people’s mental health represents a growing crisis, as does the number of people falling into poverty.

We believe the vaccines authorised by the MHRA are the most significant way in which our society can control the pandemic, accompanied by widespread testing and isolation regimes. The vaccines may have been developed and approved for use at unprecedented speeds. But this is because of unprecedented upfront investment and collaboration. We believe they have been through the same rigorous approval processes that would be demanded of any medicine before it is authorised for emergency use. This includes double-blind randomised controlled trials and peer review. The evidence from those trials suggests that the vaccines are effective. The risks from contracting Covid-19 far outweigh any risks associated with some or all of them, depending on your age and underlying health conditions. That this is the case represents a towering scientific achievement.

Estimates vary on how many people would need to be vaccinated before coronavirus restrictions can be lifted entirely. But with new strains of the virus spreading more easily, it is clear that a large majority of adults need to be vaccinated. This includes those who are personally at low risk. This is because this contributes to the reduction in transmission of the virus. That, in turn, reduces the risk of further mutation of the strains of Covid-19 in the community.

As a result, we believe everyone who is medically able to be vaccinated against Covid-19 should take up the NHS’s offer of an injection. The NHS has advice on when it expects to be able to offer the jab to different sections of the population. This includes whether you are able to have the vaccine and legitimate medical exemptions. If you are not sure whether you are able to receive the vaccine, please consult your GP or consult nhs.uk.

With the vaccine, we can begin to imagine an end to the pandemic. The Government hopes to be able to offer all adults the vaccine by September. It is hoped that booster vaccines can be quickly developed to better deal with new strains, if they prove needed. But we believe we can only get there, and resume our daily lives as they were, if we all take up this call.

In terms of those who should not get vaccinated, the NHS specifies exemptions on its website. These include children, on whom the vaccines have not yet been fully tested, and those who have a legitimate medical exemption. This includes, for example, because they have had a serious allergic reaction to a vaccine in the past. The vaccine regulator has also advised that those under 40 with no underlying health conditions should be offered an alternative vaccine to Oxford/AstraZeneca. This is due to reports of an extremely rare blood clotting problem. For everyone else, the benefits of being vaccinated outweigh any risk of clotting problems.

Click here to see the full list of signatories

Humanist leaders:

  1. Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, Humanists UK
  2. Fraser Sutherland, Chief Executive, Humanist Society Scotland
  3. Kathy Riddick, Coordinator, Wales Humanists
  4. Boyd Sleator, Coordinator, Northern Ireland Humanists
  5. Samira Shackle, Editor, New Humanist

Officers of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group:

  1. Crispin Blunt MP, Chair
  2. Baroness Bakewell DBE, Co-Chair
  3. Baroness Doreen Massey of Darwen, Secretary
  4. Alf Dubs, Treasurer
  5. Baroness Burt of Solihull, Vice Chair
  6. Clive Lewis MP, Vice Chair
  7. Tommy Sheppard MP, Vice Chair
  8. Jeff Smith MP, Vice Chair
  9. Lord Taverne QC, Vice Chair
  10. Rt Hon Lord Warner of Brockley PC, Vice Chair

Patrons of Humanists UK:

  1. Professor Alice Roberts, President
  2. Professor AC Grayling, Vice President
  3. Professor Jim Al-Khalili OBE FRS, Vice President
  4. Polly Toynbee, Vice President
  5. Dr Iolo ap Gwynn FRMS
  6. Sian Berry AM, Co-Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales
  7. Professor Simon Blackburn FBA
  8. Sir David Blatherwick KCMG OBE
  9. Professor Sir Tom Blundell FRS FMedSci
  10. Don Cameron BSc MA MIEE D.Eng FRSGS
  11. Dr Peter Cave
  12. Dr Helena Cronin
  13. Sir Richard Dalton
  14. Professor Richard Dawkins FRS FRSL
  15. Professor R.I.M. Dunbar FRAI FBA
  16. Zoë Fairbairns
  17. Kate Fox
  18. Professor Christopher French
  19. Stephen Fry
  20. Dr Alan Haworth
  21. Natalie Haynes
  22. Dr Michael Irwin
  23. Dr Christian S Jessen
  24. Warren Lakin
  25. Stewart Lee
  26. Kenan Malik
  27. Zoe Margolis
  28. Ian McEwan CBE FRSA FRSL
  29. Stephanie Merritt
  30. Diane Munday
  31. Lauren Nicklinson
  32. Professor Kate E Pickett, FRSA FFPH
  33. Professor Steven Rose
  34. Martin Rowson
  35. Michael Rubenstein
  36. Professor Wendy Savage
  37. Professor Stephen Smartt FRS
  38. Joan Smith
  39. Kate Smurthwaite
  40. Dan Snow MBE
  41. Professor Raymond Tallis FMedSci FRCP FRSA
  42. Sandi Toksvig OBE
  43. Stephen Volk
  44. Professor Richard Wiseman
  45. Professor John Worrall

 

The Christian statement has been signed by Churches Together in England’s General Secretary, Rev’d Dr Paul Goodliff, on behalf of its 50 member churches, and Revd Dr John McPake, Secretary to the Scottish Church Leaders Forum, on behalf of its around ten members. Those include the major churches from the Anglican, Catholic, Presbytarian, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Orthodox, and Lutheran traditions, as well as Free Churches, Quakers and others.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘The UK’s Covid-19 vaccination programme has been a tremendous success. But if we are to have any hope of lifting Covid restrictions entirely, we need a large share of the population to be vaccinated. There is clearly therefore further to go. Some younger people may be hesitant to get vaccinated due to being at less personal risk from the virus, and concerns around blood clots. But our simple message is that they should still take up the jab offered to them. This is the best way to save lives and potentially bring the pandemic to an end.’

Churches Together in England General Secretary Rev’d Dr Paul Goodliff commented:

‘People of goodwill and with a concern for the welfare of the most vulnerable in society quite properly collaborate together in commending vaccination as the most significant tool in the fight with Covid pandemic. Christians widely support the vaccination programme, as do humanists, and both share a concern for the common good.’

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 humanist and Christian statements.

Read Humanists UK’s advice on getting vaccinated.

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 500 attend launch of Humanist Climate Action

Professor Alice Roberts, Mark Lynas, Profesor Ben Garrod, Dr Anjana Khatwa, and Professor Sarah Bridle speak at Humanist Climate Action launch

Clockwise, from top-middle: Professor Alice Roberts, Mark Lynas, Profesor Ben Garrod, Dr Anjana Khatwa, and Professor Sarah Bridle

On Friday over 500 people joined a dazzling lineup of scientists, authors, and broadcasters concerned by the threat of man-made climate change to discuss strategies, approaches, and ambitions to save our planet from a looming ecological crisis.

The event, entitled Climate Change: a Human Problem – a Human Solution, was organised to mark the official launch of Humanist Climate Action, a new volunteer-led group of Humanists UK members and supporters taking action together on climate change.

Humanists UK President Professor Alice Roberts chaired an impressive panel of experts, featuring astrophysicist-turned-food sustainability researcher Professor Sarah Bridle; the primatologist, conservationist, and broadcaster Professor Ben Garrod; Earth scientist and broadcaster Dr Anjana Khatwa; and the environmentalist author and campaigner Mark Lynas.

Following opening remarks, conversation soon turned to the urgency with which world governments must act on climate change, and how we must apply pressure to them; the need to remain wary of corporate attempts at ‘greenwashing’; the need to build a coherent and inspiring ‘narrative’ that brings people along; and the roles we can all play for the regeneration of the planet, making sure no voices are excluded or left behind.

The build-up to the event also saw many humanist activists planting trees, as part of an initiative to plant a ‘humanist forest’ to help tackle climate change.

Commenting on the event in a message of support to Humanist Climate Action, Professor Dame Anne Glover, Humanists UK patron and a former Chief Scientific Advisor to the Scottish Government and European Commission, said:

‘Science has provided us with the evidence about climate change. But really now it’s up to us. So use your imagination, and start contributing to the solution, and stop creating the problem.’

Those interested are invited to become part of Humanist Climate Action and follow its updates Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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.

Humanist Climate Action is a volunteer-led network of Humanists UK members and supporters committed to redefining lifestyles and campaigning for policies that promote low-carbon, ethical, and sustainable living in the light of the degeneration of the Earth’s climate and biodiversity. It aims to bring humanists together to facilitate individual and collective action on these 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.

In 2021, Humanists UK is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a renewed focus on its history. The new website Humanist Heritage is a rich new web resource that uncovers the untold story of humanism in the UK – a story of people, groups, objects, places, movements, publications, and ideas.

Humanists give evidence to Jersey’s assisted dying citizens’ jury

Humanists UK has given evidence to Jersey’s citizens’ jury examining assisted dying, calling for the change in the law.

Humanists UK’s evidence centred around the importance of respecting human beings’ personal autonomy, and recognising the need to cover both those with terminal and those with incurable illnesses in any legislation. Humanists UK’s Chief Executive Andrew Copson, in his evidence, commented ‘autonomy is a fundamental human right, and Jersey’s citizens deserve the same rights as currently enjoyed by more than 350 million people around the world.’

Humanists UK is a member of the Assisted Dying Coalition (ADC). According to a survey by fellow ADC members End of Life Choices Jersey, 87% of islanders and a majority of doctors support legal assisted dying for both the terminally ill and incurably suffering.

The submission to Jersey’s jury on assisted dying come after the renowned neurosurgeon and patron of Humanists UK, Dr Henry Marsh, announced his advanced cancer prognosis. He has supported a call, backed by more than 50 MPs and peers, for the UK Government to hold an inquiry into assisted dying.

Commenting on Humanists UK’s evidence to Jersey’s jury, Channel Islands Humanists Chair Dave Crocker said: 

‘In a fair, kind, and compassionate society, nobody should be forced to suffer in great pain or die without dignity. Nor should anyone be denied the choice to control their own death, simply because they lack the financial means of travelling to Switzerland.

‘The evidence favouring assisted dying is now overwhelming, and this is reflected in the fact that progressive countries continue to overturn bans on assisted dying at a rapid pace. With nearly nine in ten islanders clamouring for a change in the law, we urge panellists to heed the compelling case for assisted dying and support a legal, safe, and compassionate change in the law.’

Notes:

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

Read Humanists UK’s evidence to the citizens’ jury on assisted dying. 

Read more about Jersey’s citizens’ jury on assisted dying.

Read more about Humanists UK’s work on 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.

Humanists UK launches My Mortality, a collection of humanist reflections on death

In connection with Dying Matters Awareness Week, Humanists UK has launched My Mortality, a collection of 50 personal reflections on death and dying from a diverse range of humanists. Dying Matters Awareness Week (10-16 May) provides an opportunity to consider the way we approach and think about death and opens up conversations about dying and bereavement. The My Mortality project aims to provide an often overlooked non-religious perspective on questions around death, and to support non-religious people to think about their own mortality in a more positive and productive way. The shared reflections create an opportunity to explore humanist attitudes to fear, loss, and grief, as well as how they plan and prepare for the end, and their views on assisted dying.

Humanists believe this is the one life we have. They don’t believe in an afterlife. They believe we should therefore make the most of our lives in the here and now, seeking happiness and supporting others to do the same. Death’s finality can often give humanists a sense of meaning and purpose in the time they have available. Many will speak of how something of them does survive their deaths: the atoms that make up our bodies can go on to form new things; our genes can live on in our children and grandchildren; and our ideas, works, connections, and contributions to society can live on in the memories of others and in the impact we make on the world.

The project was the idea of Humanists UK school speaker and pastoral carer John Turner. Following conversations with family and friends, he realised the topic of death was one people rarely confronted. He therefore wanted to investigate how humanists viewed the prospect of the end of their own lives.

John Turner commented:

‘The different views presented here provide an important insight into a neglected aspect of what it means to be a humanist. I hope that all who read these contributions, irrespective of their beliefs, will find inspiration and comfort in the honest thoughts written here. I also hope that the “My Mortality” project will continue, and that more humanists will be inspired to contribute to this collective insight into what it means to be a humanist and, indeed, a human being.’

Director of Understanding Humanism Luke Donnellan commented:

‘Conversations about death can often be swept under the carpet or put off until it is too late. Positives can be drawn from considering our own mortality and what it means to us. It can help us to live better lives. I hope these reflections will support people to learn more about the different attitudes and approaches people have towards death and that they will open up opportunities for others to think about their own mortality and engage in conversation.’

A sample of humanist reflections from the My Mortality project:

‘My awareness that I have one life, that every waking moment is precious and gone in an instant, gives me focus. I pour as much time and effort as I can into the things that matter most to me: family, friendships, and relationships; writing, reading, and music; and supporting causes that make a positive difference in the world. I want to make my finite life as meaningful and as packed-full with pleasure and personal achievement as I can, because it’s all I have.’

Julian Webb

‘When I was in my early 50s my husband died very suddenly; he killed himself after leaving a note saying he couldn’t cope. Early in my bereavement I felt I had no future, but despite the grief and shock I knew also that I wanted to live my own life to the full. I made positive changes in my work (becoming freelance) and in my lifestyle (giving up smoking) to ensure I was in the best possible place to enjoy the life I had in front of me.’

Sylvia Summer

‘I wouldn’t want to live forever. The certainty of death is my friend. A friend who helps me lead a good life, helps me to laugh and cry, to love, to take a risk, motivates me to be brave and say yes to experiences whilst I can… It is painful to think of my loved ones in grief and I worry about the challenges they will face as they inherit this messy planet. I hope I will live through them as they inherit my behaviours and traits – hopefully the good ones! I am certain my legacy will be remembered through them, so I’m trying to make good memories and to tread lightly on this earth for the fleeting time I am lucky enough to be here.’

Karen Lewis

‘I have always known that death waits at the end of the road and sometimes nips up on you like a joker. Friend then, rather than foe. My nonchalance ended when my 92-year-old mother became very ill and entered a nursing home. She is lonely and confused. I am sometimes overwhelmed by sadness at what her life has become, and I fear it for myself. It is fear of dying rather than death – I know death is the end of consciousness and a welcome relief for an old body – but they are imaginatively connected. If dying means losing freedom and control, it sounds like being dead but alive enough to experience it, which is scary!’

Hester Brown

‘You might think I should be well aware of my mortality. But I am not yet living my life as if I know my days were limited. If I have any fears it is that I will die too late – after the ‘me’ that I know and care about is long gone. I am thinking now of the woman with dementia who could scream and cry for days on end. Death can be a friend that keeps away for too long. ‘

Mary Porter

‘I will not throw away my one chance by waiting for a mythical perfection to come. I will goad this procrastinating sloth to wring the most out of my time and when it is done I accept it will be the end. And as for legacy, I am amused to think that I will continue for a generation or two in the memories of others. The readers will sometimes ponder the author. One quarter of my genes will slowly be diluted further by my grandchildren and the molecules borrowed by my body will be shared throughout the world and beyond. Eventually even the universe will end. It is now that matters.’

Stuart Elton

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Understanding Humanism Luke Donnellan at education@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3070.

Visit the My Mortality website.

Understanding Humanism is Humanists UK’s education service. It provides teaching resources, training, and online courses to support people to better understand the humanist approach to life. Visit Understanding Humanism at understandinghumanism.org.uk.

Dying Matters works to create an open culture that talks about death, dying and bereavement. It runs public facing campaigns, influences and campaigns for change, nurtures a professional network and works with partners to break down the stigma that surrounds death and dying. Dying Matters is run by Hospice UK, who took over the campaign in 2017 following a merger with the NCPC. The Dying Matters coalition originated in 2009 thanks to Department of Health and NHS England funding.

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.

In 2021, Humanists UK is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a renewed focus on its history. The new website Humanist Heritage is a rich new web resource that uncovers the untold story of humanism in the UK – a story of people, groups, objects, places, movements, publications, and ideas.

Party leaders give thanks to humanists at Humanists UK 125th anniversary

Cross-party messages from across the UK have been delivered to mark the 125th anniversary of the founding of Humanists UK. The leaders of the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, and of the Green Party of England and Wales, as well as the First Minister of Scotland and Lord Greenhalgh, the Minister responsible for UK Government relations with humanists, have all given their congratulations.

Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer MP said:

‘I’m delighted to congratulate Humanists UK on your 125th anniversary. Ever since its foundation as an ethical movement, humanists have contributed enormously to our party’s and our nation’s achievements. Labour’s first Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, was an early President of Humanists UK. Also humanists were Nye Bevan, the creator of the NHS; Jennie Lee, who created the Open University; and Dora Russell, campaigner for abortion law reform.

‘Humanists and Humanists UK have been at the forefront of the fight for social change: to decriminalise homosexuality, to end corporal punishment in schools, and to introduce free school meals. But you’ve also played an integral role in our communities: from setting up humanist housing associations and adoption agencies through to today’s very popular humanist ceremonies.

‘When a small group of radicals met 125 years ago they can scarcely have imagined the impact they would have: on our shared values, on our laws, and on social progress. Thank you to humanists and Humanists UK for all you’ve contributed to our society. Here’s to the next 125 years!’

First Minister of Scotland and Leader of the SNP Nicola Sturgeon MSP said:

‘I’d like to wish Humanists UK a very happy 125th birthday and show my appreciation for the enormous contribution that humanists make to our society. 125 years ago, a small band of humanists in each of the four nations of the UK came together to create this movement and 125 years later you are still going strong.

‘In Scotland that is embodied by the Humanist Society Scotland, who do so much good work. From providing pastoral care in hospitals and universities, to initiatives like StreetCare – delivering food in communities across Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Stirling. So on this 125th anniversary I want to thank you for all that you do and wish you a very happy occasion, and many more years.’

Liberal Democrats Leader Sir Ed Davey MP said:

‘The party I lead unites a number of traditions. Liberal Democrats have always been a place where reformers and of all types have come together to take the best of their different traditions and ways of thinking, in pursuit of our common liberal goals. I am a Christian… but I recognise that for many people, religion isn’t where their main values come from. It’s not what motivates them to get up and go to work, or to care for their relatives, or to give their time to charity and the needy…

‘Liberal and humanist traditions have long been intertwined. Many liberal humanists shaped the society we live in. I think of philosophers like John Stuart Mill, liberal suffragists like Emily Hobhouse, and in the 20th century, figures like William Beveridge – father of our welfare state – and the liberal economist John Maynard Keynes…

‘As humanists and as liberals, we want many of the same things. We all want to see a tolerant and inclusive society, where decisions are made on the basis of the best available evidence, and built on a foundation of human rights, democratic values, and the rule of law. So on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I’d like to wish a very happy birthday to Humanists UK.’

Green Party of England and Wales Co-Leader Sian Berry AM said:

‘As a humanist myself, I often feel like my humanist values and Green values spring from the same place. Because to me, humanism is about recognising we came from the living world and we live within it. Our concern for other living beings, for our planet, and for future generations is core to both of these philosophies. It’s an approach to life shaped by a rational, evidence-based understanding of our society and the problems we face – not only as individuals, but collectively. These are values which are so important to humanists and to Greens alike…

‘One simple humanist conviction that inspires me, something which is evident all around me, is this: for the most part people are good, and they want to do good. I see that across all communities. I’ve found it to be true in every part of the country and every part of society. And it’s equally true of humanists and people with religious beliefs…

‘This year, we commemorate that 125 years ago, a group of activist men and women met up and put forward a positive vision of the world, with ideas like universal education, votes for women, non-discrimination in the workplace, rights for LGBT people, inclusive schools. Today millions attend humanist ceremonies, or are touched by the work of humanist pastoral carers in hospitals, or participate in humanist campaigns for free thinking and freedom of choice. And many more share these values, quietly, sometimes unnamed – doing their part for a kinder, more sustainable society.’

Conservative Minister Lord Greenhalgh, Minister of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government said:

‘It is important that, on such a special anniversary, we reflect on all that humanists in the UK have achieved over the past 125 years.

‘As well as celebrating your broad contribution, we can renew our celebrations of individual humanists working in various fields such as the sciences, philosophy, defence, and the arts, who have truly reflected humanist values; to think independently and act with kindness and tolerance for the benefit of our shared society. It is good to see the work of humanists featured within your new Humanist Heritage project and website.

‘As we prepare for our national recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, I would like to thank humanists in the UK for their tireless contribution to the national effort. You have all contributed in numerous ways; with many humanists working in front line services and the NHS, some of you engaging with the Government on critical issues, but very significantly you have supported bereaved families and provided space for people to mourn and remember.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘We’re delighted to be celebrating 125 years of activism, serving those in their time of need, providing community, and changing the UK for the better. Humanists UK today is stronger than it has ever been, and as well as looking back on all that we have achieved, we look forward with excitement to what more change we can bring about in the years ahead.’

The Council of the ‘Union of Ethical Societies’ – Humanists UK’s original name – first met on 30 April 1896. It held its first annual Congress on 5 July. As a result, Humanists UK held an event to mark the anniversary on 30 April – ‘“Conscience in action”: how humanist activists shaped society’, looking back with historians and long-time humanist activists like Diane Munday, who was instrumental in bringing about legal abortion in Britain. The event also focused on the recent launch of its new Humanist Heritage website – cataloguing hundreds of humanist people, ideas, organisations, and innovations, it aims to put one of the most important social movements in UK history in the spotlight for the first time.

And it has a whole series of events and activities planned over the rest of the year. Events include to mark the 42nd anniversary of the Gay Humanist Group (now LGBT Humanists, a section of Humanists UK); on the history of race equality and humanism; and another with a focus on faith schools, marking the anniversary of the Moral Instruction League being founded in 1897.

A history of Humanists UK

Humanists UK was founded in 1896 as the Union of Ethical Societies. The ethical culture movement focused on living well and acting morally, separating both from any notions of supernatural punishment or reward. The first ethical societies trace their roots back to the 1870s, and at their peak in the 1900s there were over 70. Today there is one ethical society left in the UK, namely Conway Hall in Holborn.

In 1920, the Union of Ethical Societies was renamed the Ethical Union. In 1963-7, the Ethical Union became the British Humanist Association, with the Happy Human logo being invented in 1965. The BHA further evolved into Humanists UK in 2017, and today has around 100,000 members and supporters, more than ever before.

Along the way, notable events included the first ever global antiracism gathering, the Universal Races Congress, which was held in 1911 and featured W.E.B. Du Bois, as well as three past or future UK Prime Ministers; the 1955 BBC broadcast ‘Morals without Religion’ by Margaret Knight, psychologist and later member of the Humanist Broadcasting Council, which broke new ground as the first-ever broadcast of its type, and led to an avalanche of complaints; the founding of the Humanist Housing Association in 1955 and Agnostics Adoption Society in 1963, to provide services that in their time had not been available to non-religious people, and which had a special interest in supporting racial minorities; fighting against section 28 in the 1980s through to helping bring about legal recognition of same-sex marriages in the 2010s; to prompting the abolition of England and Wales’s blasphemy laws in 2008; and the legal recognition of humanist marriages in Scotland in 2005 and Northern Ireland in 2018.

Other notable people with a shared history include a young Gandhi, who published translations of American humanist writings and was close friends with Florence Winterbottom, Secretary of the Union of Ethical Societies; the former UK Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, who was President of the Union in the 1900s; Jennie Lee, a humanist who founded the Open University; and Wole Soyinka, who spoke at the 2014 World Humanist Congress and today is a patron of Humanists UK.

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.

Watch the party leaders’ videos.

Visit the Humanist Heritage website.

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.

In 2021, Humanists UK is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a renewed focus on its history. The new website Humanist Heritage is a rich new web resource that uncovers the untold story of humanism in the UK – a story of people, groups, objects, places, movements, publications, and ideas.

Humanists UK Convention returns for 2021

Humanists UK President Professor Alice Roberts, and the Humanists UK Convention 2021 logo.

Alice Roberts will speak at Humanists UK Convention 2021, alongside Sathnam Sanghera, Callum Brown, Stephen Smartt, Samira Ahmed, Jim Al-Khalili, and more.

Humanists UK has this week announced Humanists UK Convention 2021, taking place entirely online on 19 June, the weekend of World Humanist Day.

Joining Humanists UK President Alice Roberts at Convention 2021 will be Sathnam Sanghera, Callum Brown, Stephen Smartt, Samira Ahmed, Jim Al-Khalili, and others, for a wide-ranging yet extremely focused programme of talks and discussions that will ask big questions about humanity’s past and future, putting humanist values and humanist ideas about our place in the universe into the spotlight.

The event – with a stellar cast of scientists, historians, writers, broadcasters, and humanist activists – promises to be a fantastic celebration of humanism in the year of Humanists UK’s 125th anniversary.

Back after two years following the 2020 London Convention’s cancellation, the one-day online event aims to be the most ambitious to date – reaching out to humanists not just in the UK, but from around the world, and thousands are expected to join to mark World Humanist Day.

Tickets are available to buy now for just £19.

In a session chaired by science broadcaster and poker champion Liv Boeree, astronomer Professor Stephen Smartt will examine ‘our place in the universe’, while Professor Alice Roberts brings us back down to earth, detailing our ‘human journey’, chaired by Professor Jim Al-Khalili. Broadcaster Samira Ahmed and author Sathnam Sanghera will discuss the lingering effects of the British Empire in the UK today, while Humanist Heritage Coordinator Madeleine Goodall will help to place humanism in a modern historical context, with historians Charlie Lynch, Professor Callum Brown, and Professor David Nash. A full programme and timetable has been made available.

Jam-packed with challenging and exciting ideas, the 19 June event is not to be missed.

‘I enjoyed the high quality speakers who brought so many ideas and such understanding to us,’ said one attendee of 2019’s Convention. Another, describing their Convention experience, commented, ‘There were amazing talks, with well-reasoned and respectful debate and discussions.’ ‘We had the best time,’ said one pair. ‘Organisers should be widely congratulated for a really good convention and for going out of their way for making it a good event for people to attend.’

Humanists UK urges members and supporters to book their place soon.

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.

New resource reveals the forgotten history of the first ever global anti-racism summit

The humanist W.E.B. Du Bois was among the US delegation to the First Universal Races Congress.

The new Humanist Heritage resource launched this week has revealed the forgotten history of humanism and humanists in the UK. New discoveries include fascinating details of the First Universal Races Congress, which was held in London in 1911, and was the first ever global summit organised to tackle racism, ‘with a view to encouraging between [those of different races] a fuller understanding, the most friendly feelings, and a heartier co-operation’. The Congress predated similarly-themed UNESCO conferences by four decades, but has long since been forgotten. Though enormously influential in the years prior to the First World War, very little has been written about it in the decades since. But now the Humanist Heritage project is set to change that.

New details of the Congress coming to light for the first time in over 100 years include the reaction of the American civil rights activist and humanist W.E.B. Du Bois, and the organising role of that era’s current, former, and future UK Prime Ministers. The Congress was also attended by such notable individuals as the Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, and the social activist Annie Besant.

The Congress was principally organised by Gustav Spiller, a leader of the Union of Ethical Societies – which is today Humanists UK – in a bold attempt to challenge racism and encourage international understanding. The role of the three Prime Ministers have been forgotten about ever since, but the Humanist Heritage website reveals that the Congress’s Vice Presidents included then-UK Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, a Liberal; his predecessor Arthur Balfour, a Conservative; and future Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. Asquith and Balfour were Christians but the Humanist Heritage project has also uncovered that MacDonald was a humanist who had previously chaired several congresses of the Union of Ethical Societies – the equivalent role today being President of Humanists UK. Stanton Coit, the founder of what is now Humanists UK, was another Vice President of the Congress.

Du Bois had co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) two years earlier, and was part of a large African-American delegation to the Congress. His reaction to it was recorded in The Crisis, the NAACP’s journal, but is now being unearthed for the first time since. He wrote:

‘It was a great day for humanity. It was a great day even in the light of the expected criticisms that the Congress accomplished nothing. It accomplished wonders. It met successfully in peace and concord and yet with unusual freedom of speech. It secured the co-operation of many of the leading people of the world and induced them to stand openly on its platform not simply of “Peace,” but of ”Good Will Toward All Men.” Finally it took steps toward the perfection of a world organization for interracial concord, investigation and co-operation. Every word uttered, every step taken by this Congress is in direct opposition to the dominant philosophy of race hatred…’

Another attendee was Charles Alexander Eastman, a Santee Dakota doctor and Native American rights activist. He wrote that the Congress was ‘the perfect equality of the races, which formed the background of all the discussions. It was declared at the outset that there is no superior race, and no inferior.’

Resolutions from the Congress included ‘To urge that the establishment of harmonious relations between the divisions of mankind is a prerequisite to any attempt to diminish warfare and extend the practice of arbitration… To emphasize that differences in civilization do not connote either inferiority or superiority… [and] To point out the absurdity of the belief prevalent among peoples of the world that their customs, their civilization, and their physique are superior to those of other peoples…’

Unfortunately, the Congress did not have the lasting effect it could have. Ambitious plans to take forward its work were shattered by the First World War. That in turn was followed by the Great Depression and then the Second World War. It was only in the aftermath of the Second World War and its clearly racist motivations that international efforts to tackle racism were able to begin anew. Du Bois later said that the Congress ‘would have marked an epoch in the racial history of the world if it had not been for the World War’.

Madeleine Goodall, the researcher behind the Humanist Heritage project, commented:

‘The Universal Races Congress was a remarkable achievement, so far ahead of its time. It is a shame that its legacy was shattered by the two World Wars and Great Depression, or else it would no doubt be remembered as the birthplace of the global efforts to eradicate racism that would have followed.’

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 the First Universal Races Congress, its organiser Gustav Spiller, and attendees such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Mahatma Gandhi.

Visit the Humanist Heritage website.

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.

In 2021, Humanists UK is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a renewed focus on its history. The new website Humanist Heritage is a rich new web resource that uncovers the untold story of humanism in the UK – a story of people, groups, objects, places, movements, publications, and ideas.

Humanists come together to call for Mubarak Bala’s release on first anniversary of arrest

Today marks one year since President of the Nigerian Humanist Association, Mubarak Bala, was arrested, accused of being ‘provocative and annoying to Muslims’ on Facebook. He is currently being arbitrarily detained in Kano State, a region that allows for the operation of Sharia courts alongside secular courts, where riots and murder are not uncommon for accusations of blasphemy, and where blasphemy carries the death penalty.

In support of Humanists International’s campaign to secure his safety and freedom, Humanists UK, many of its patrons, and members of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) have signed an open letter calling for his immediate and unconditional release. Signatories among many others include Humanists UK President Alice Roberts; Vice Presidents Jim Al-Khalili, Polly Toynbee, and AC Grayling; patrons Stephen Fry, Wole Soyinka, and Richard Dawkins; and APPHG members Crispin Blunt MP, Joan Bakewell, and Alf Dubs. It is being released just as the UK Government’s Africa Minister, James Duddridge MP, is on a diplomatic visit to Nigeria, meeting with his Nigerian opposites and discussing human rights.

The letter has more generally been signed by almost 90 organisations and individuals from across the world, and addressed to the Governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje. It states signatories’ ‘deep concern regarding the ongoing detention of Mubarak Bala’ which has been ‘marked by a lack of due process’:

‘To our knowledge, even 365 days after his initial arrest Mr Bala has yet to be charged with a crime. It is worth noting that the Honourable Justice I. E. Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja ruled Mr Bala’s continuous incarceration to be illegal and ordered his immediate release on bail.

‘The undersigned organisations fear that Mr Bala is being targeted solely for his exercise of his rights of freedom of belief and freedom of expression, as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution and international and regional instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory.

‘We urge you to uphold your duty to respect fundamental freedoms and to release Mubarak Bala immediately without conditions.’

In October 2020, Bala was finally granted access to his legal team, more than five months after his initial arrest. In December, a judge at the High Court in Abuja, Nigeria, ruled that he should be immediately released on bail after finding that his continuous incarceration without charge violated his fundamental rights guaranteed under the Nigerian Constitution.

On 1 March, the Federal High Court in Abuja presided over the first hearing related to Bala’s lawyer’s petition challenging the competence of Kano State to bring charges against their client. The court was adjourned until a later date.

Chief Executive of Humanists UK Andrew Copson said:

‘The treatment of Mubarak starkly illustrates how the global prevalence of blasphemy laws threatens the rights and safety of millions across the world. Time and time again, those responsible for his unlawful detention have shown complete disregard for his fundamental human rights as guaranteed under the Nigerian Constitution. Mubarak should be released immediately and unconditionally, and his safety guaranteed.’

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 open letter and see the full list of signatories.

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 resource unearths the UK’s humanist history as Humanists UK celebrates 125 years

Some 20th century humanists: Rosalind Franklin, WEB Dubois, Jennie Lee, and Ludovic Kennedy.

For too long, the history of humanism and of people motivated to do great things on the basis of humanist beliefs and values has been little represented and profoundly under-recognised in the UK. But that all looks set to change, as an in-depth new resource called Humanist Heritage has launched today, to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Humanists UK this very month.

By cataloguing hundreds of humanist people, ideas, organisations, and innovations, the new Humanist Heritage website aims to put one of the most important social movements in UK history in the spotlight for the first time.

This ranges from well-known national heroes whose humanist motivations have often been overlooked, like codebreaker Alan Turing, DNA discoverer Rosalind Franklin, and NHS founder Nye Bevan – to campaigners who have languished in obscurity for decades but whose influence on the UK today is so vast that that deserves to change. This includes people like May Seaton-Tiedeman, who in 1937 was instrumental in making it possible to get divorced because of cruelty or desertion; Elizabeth Swann, Chair of the First Annual Congress of the Union of Ethical Societies, who was instrumental in bringing about laws to regulate midwifery; and Gustav Spiller, who organised the First Universal Races Congress in 1911 in a bold attempt to challenge racism and encourage international understanding.

Humanists are non-religious people who think for themselves and act for everyone. Today YouGov polling suggests around 7% of people in the UK – almost 5 million people – primarily identify as humanists, while almost 30% hold humanist beliefs.

The research project was led by historian Madeleine Goodall, whose findings unearthed many activists, particularly women, buried or excised from history, or whose humanist convictions were left out of their official biographies. Commenting on the project, Ms Goodall said:

‘The Humanist Heritage project has been truly eye-opening in shedding light on a large number of forgotten figures, lost not only from the history of humanism but from that of the UK as a whole. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, freethinking individuals were pioneering changes in education, healthcare, law, and social welfare, the results of which we largely take for granted today. Looking afresh at these remarkable stories provides a new way of understanding the past and the present, as well as envisioning a future we can be proud of.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘Many notable figures in UK history were humanists and expressed strong humanist motivations. Curiously however this fact has frequently been left out of their biographies, as well as from official histories of our nation’s laws and institutions. This is the case even when those individuals were leading members of humanist societies in their day.

‘Our 125th anniversary is a fitting time to right that wrong. We are therefore delighted to be able to share the Humanist Heritage resource with the world, and celebrate humanists that shaped the UK into the country it is today.

‘We see this as a resource for the future, which is destined to grow and grow as new heritage is uncovered and explored.’

125th anniversary events

Humanists UK has a whole series of events and activities planned around its 125th anniversary, of which the Humanist Heritage website is the flagship.

Events planned include ‘How humanist activists shaped society’, on 30 April: a look back with historians and long-time humanist activists like Diane Munday, who was instrumental in bringing about legal abortion in Britain. Other events later in the year include to the 42nd anniversary of the Gay Humanist Group (now LGBT Humanists, a section of Humanists UK); on the history of race equality and humanism; and another with a focus on faith schools, marking the anniversary of the Moral Instruction League being founded in 1897.

A history of Humanists UK

Humanists UK was founded in 1896 as the Union of Ethical Societies. The ethical culture movement focused on living well and acting morally, separating both from any notions of supernatural punishment or reward. The first ethical societies trace their roots back to the 1870s, and at their peak in the 1900s there were over 70. Today there is one ethical society left in the UK, namely Conway Hall in Holborn.

In 1920, the Union of Ethical Societies was renamed the Ethical Union. In 1963-7, the Ethical Union became the British Humanist Association, with the Happy Human logo being invented in 1965. The BHA further evolved into Humanists UK in 2017, and today has around 100,000 members and supporters, more than ever before.

Along the way, notable events included the first ever global antiracism gathering, the Universal Races Congress, which was held in 1911 and featured W.E.B. Du Bois, as well as three past or future UK Prime Ministers; the 1955 BBC broadcast ‘Morals without Religion’ by Margaret Knight, psychologist and later member of the Humanist Broadcasting Council, which broke new ground as the first-ever broadcast of its type, and led to an avalanche of complaints; the founding of the Humanist Housing Association in 1955 and Agnostics Adoption Society in 1963, to provide services that in their time had not been available to non-religious people, and which had a special interest in supporting racial minorities; fighting against section 28 in the 1980s through to helping bring about legal recognition of same-sex marriages in the 2010s; to prompting the abolition of England and Wales’s blasphemy laws in 2008; and the legal recognition of humanist marriages in Scotland in 2005 and Northern Ireland in 2018.

Other notable people with a shared history include a young Gandhi, who published translations of American humanist writings and was close friends with Florence Winterbottom, Secretary of the Union of Ethical Societies; the former UK Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, who was President of the Union in the 1900s; Jennie Lee, a humanist who founded the Open University; and Wole Soyinka, who spoke at the 2014 World Humanist Congress and today is a patron of Humanists UK.

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.

Visit the Humanist Heritage website.

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.

In 2021, Humanists UK is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a renewed focus on its history. The new website Humanist Heritage is a rich new web resource that uncovers the untold story of humanism in the UK – a story of people, groups, objects, places, movements, publications, and ideas.

Search Humanists UK