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

Secularism: A Very Short Introduction

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

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

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

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

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

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

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

Humanists back anti-genocide amendment ahead of Commons vote

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

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

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

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

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

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

Notes:

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

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

Read more about our work on international campaigns.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

MPs raise persecution of humanists in India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

Read the recent debate.

Read more about the persecution of humanists in India.

Read more about our work on international campaigns.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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).

Mockup psd created by Vectorium – www.freepik.com

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.

Children’s rights experts tell UK to repeal compulsory collective worship laws

Governments across the UK should repeal compulsory collective worship, children’s rights bodies from all four nations have told the United Nations.

Humanists UK, Wales Humanists, and Northern Ireland Humanists all contributed evidence to national reports compiled by key children’s rights bodies in each country, with partner organisation Humanist Society Scotland contributing to a similar report in Scotland.

The reports will now be used to shape the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s review of the UK’s children’s rights record.

Collective worship

The last review – known as the Concluding Observations –  was conducted in 2016. In it, the UN Committee recommended the repeal of compulsory collective worship in UK schools. However – as noted in the reports by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE), Children in Wales (CiW) and the Children’s Law Centre Northern Ireland – four years on, no progress has been made. The legal requirement to carry out an act of Christian worship is still in place across the UK.

With this in mind, the reports for Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland (where collective worship is known as ‘religious observance’) say the UN should ask the respective governments when they will repeal these provisions.

Segregated schools and RE in Northern Ireland

In 2016 the Committee also said the Northern Ireland Government should ‘actively promote a fully integrated education system and carefully monitor the provision of shared education… to ensure that it facilitates social integration’.

Despite this, most Protestants and Catholics are still educated apart from one another, with teaching staff and governing bodies also divided along faith lines. This represents a considerable barrier to social cohesion and threatens the freedom of religion or belief of pupils educated in this segregated system. What’s more, even in integrated schools (where pupils from the Protestant and Catholic communities are educated together with those from other backgrounds), the curriculum for religious education, drawn up by the four main Christian churches, contains very little on other world religions, and nothing at all about humanism.

The report to the UN from Northern Ireland’s Children’s Law Centre draws heavily on the evidence of Northern Ireland Humanists, asking the Committee to press the Government to explain how it will ‘ensure the NI RE curriculum acknowledges and respects the beliefs of children with no religion and those with minority faiths.’

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham said:

‘Children’s rights bodies from across the UK are united in the view that laws requiring schools to impose a daily act of Christian worship on pupils fly in the face of children’s freedom of religion or belief.

‘Over four years ago the UN told the UK this was the case and yet the Governments are still to take action. We very much hope that the UN takes up the issue again.’

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented: 

‘The segregation and religious bias endemic in the education system in Northern Ireland represents a clear and ongoing threat to children’s rights, particularly the right to freedom of religion or belief. Children’s rights bodies in Northern Ireland clearly agree that we need schools that educate pupils from a variety of different backgrounds alongside one another in an inclusive manner if we are to have a cohesive, tolerant society that respects the rights of everyone equally.’

Wales Humanists Coordinator Kathy Riddick said:

‘Changes like introducing compulsory RSE and making religious education fully inclusive of humanism mark a huge step towards realising children’s rights in Wales. But the lack of action on collective worship threatens to undermine this. The education Bill currently passing through the Senedd could easily be amended to repeal the law requiring worship but the Government is refusing to do this.

‘We hope the fact that the children’s rights bodies have unanimously concluded that these laws should be repealed persuades them to think again.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham via ruth@humanists.uk  or phone 020 7324 3000 or 07725 110 860.

Read the full reports:

Read our article on education law reforms urgently needed to protect children’s rights.

Read our article on segregation and religious bias in education pose major threat to children’s rights in Northern Ireland.

Read more about our work on:

Wales Humanists and Northern Ireland Humanists are parts 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.

Belgian non-stunned slaughter ban upheld by top EU court

The EU’s top court, the European Court of Justice, has upheld a decision by Flanders, the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium, to require all farm animals are stunned before slaughter, following a challenge by Jewish and Muslim groups. The ruling is binding case law in the UK, which means that EU law that will apply in the UK even after the end of the transition period does not prevent such a ban from also being introduced domestically. Humanists UK has said the decision should give UK legislators confidence to uphold animal welfare standards here too, by closing religious loopholes to animal welfare laws.

Ruling on whether the law violated religious freedoms under the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, the Court said the ‘obligation to use reversible stunning was appropriate for achieving the objective of promoting animal welfare’, and so there was no infringement of anyone’s human rights. It found the Flemish government was pursuing a legitimate aim, underpinned by the best scientific evidence as to the animal welfare of farm animals, emerging from an ‘evolving societal and legislative context characterised by increasing awareness of the issue of animal welfare.’

At present, all farm animals in the UK must be stunned prior to slaughter, except when such slaughter is for halal or kosher meat. Humanists UK has restated its call for ministers to close these exemptions to animal welfare laws, as many countries have already one.

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

‘We know the UK Government is looking closely at how it can improve animal welfare standards in the UK, and an end to non-stunned slaughter would be one the most meaningful improvements it could make. This decision should give UK ministers confidence that such a change is possible in the UK.’

The ban on non-stunned slaughter in Flanders came into effect in January 2019, and followed a similar ban in Wallonia (French-speaking Belgium) the previous year.

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 judgment.

Read more about our work on animal welfare.

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.

Curriculum Bill passes stage one in Senedd

A Bill that will make religious education in Wales fully inclusive of humanism has passed the first stage before becoming law. Wales Humanists – which has long campaigned for this change – has strongly welcomed the news, saying the Bill will make Wales ‘a world-leader in inclusive education’.

Following a debate, Senedd members today voted in favour of the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill. The Bill will make explicit that schools cover humanism equally to religions in the curriculum, that humanists can sit on the bodies that develop and oversee the syllabus at local authority level, and will rename ‘Religious Education’ to ‘Religion, Values, and Ethics’ (RVE) to reflect this broader scope.

If it becomes law, the Bill will also give parents whose children attend voluntary aided faith schools the right to demand objective RVE lessons in line with the syllabus taught in other schools, instead of faith-based lessons.

During the debate, Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams expressed her ‘appreciation to Wales Humanists for their contribution’ to the Government’s work on RVE and said the Bill would ‘ensure pluralistic RVE is available to all learners’. Chair of the Senedd’s Children, Education, and Young People Committee, Lynne Neagle, emphasised the Committee’s ‘unanimous’ support for mandatory lessons in RVE and Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) that is ‘objective, critical, and pluralistic’, in line with Wales Humanists’ calls. And Labour MS Joyce Watson highlighted the fact that the curriculum was about ‘teaching wider perspectives’ as well as ‘respect’ and ‘understanding that people are different’.

Wales Humanists Coordinator Kathy Riddick commented: 

‘We are delighted that the Senedd has given its support to this landmark Bill. By broadening the scope of RE so it explicitly requires teaching about humanism, as well as giving parents the right to demand objective lessons about a range of religious and non-religious beliefs in faith schools, these changes will revitalise this important subject and make it relevant to all pupils regardless of background.

‘We are nevertheless concerned that the Bill has done nothing to remove the archaic requirement for schools to carry out a daily act of Christian worship. This not only contradicts much of the rationale for the new curriculum, but it also undermines the freedom of religion or belief of children and their families. We therefore urge the Senedd to amend the Bill to remove this law.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Wales Humanists Coordinator Kathy Riddick via kathy@humanists.uk or phone 07881 625 378.

Read our most recent article on the Senedd committee backing Bill that will make RE fully inclusive of humanism.

Read our article on Wales Humanists giving evidence to the Senedd’s Children, Young People, and Education Committee.

Watch Wales Humanists give evidence to the Committee.

Read Wales Humanists’ written response to the call for evidence.

Read the full Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill.

Read our article on Welsh Government introducing the Bill requiring Religion, Values, and Ethics lessons to be fully inclusive of humanism.

Read more about Wales Humanists’ work on RE.

Wales Humanists is 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.

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.

Wales Humanists launches report on 100 years of disestablishment

The new report from Wales Humanists, available in both English and Welsh

This year, Wales marks 100 years since the Church Act came into force. The Act led to the disestablishment of the Church of England in Wales, and had a far-reaching impact on Welsh society and public life.

Today, Wales Humanists is publishing a report on the story of Wales following the Act, reflecting on the unique and largely exemplary political culture of modern Wales, including the successes of the devolved administration established along secular lines. The report, which is available in both English and Welsh, also praises the current changes to education law focused on the inclusion of humanism, and the fact that Wales led the way in being the first part of the UK to introduce opt-out organ donation.

It also suggests further ways in which Wales should build on the proud legacy of independent thought and pluralism to ensure that every resident is treated with equal dignity, regardless of religion or belief. These include ending religious discrimination by faith schools and through collective worship, introducing non-religious pastoral care in hospitals, and legal recognition of humanist marriages.

Wales Humanists Coordinator Kathy Riddick commented: 

‘This report documents how life in Wales has been impacted by disestablishment and how the Senedd was founded on secular ideals of respect, diversity, and equality. It also sets out how much work we still have to do to live up to the ideals of those who brought about disestablishment 100 years ago.

‘Wales is a mostly non-religious nation, but we embrace those from different cultures and beliefs. It is now more important than ever that we challenge ourselves to maximise freedom of religion or belief for all citizens.’

About the Act

Calls for an Act began in the nineteenth century because of the unfairness of non-Anglicans paying tithes to support the Church of England, growing numbers of Nonconformists, and the growth of a sense of Welsh nationhood. The Act disestablished the Church of England, and created the Church in Wales, which was, markedly and for the first time, separate from the state.

Join our event

Along with the publication of the report, Please join us tonight for a discussion on how we can increase equality in our diverse society. Leading the discussion will be:

  • Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of Humanists UK,
  • Dr Iolo Ap Gwynn, scientist, author, and a patron of Wales Humanists
  • Julie Morgan MS, Welsh Government minister and a patron of Wales Humanists
REGISTER YOUR PLACE

 

The event will take place via Zoom from 18:00–19:00 on 7 December. A link to access the event will be provided by email to those who register.

Download the report

Cymraeg

Cymraeg

 

English

English

 

Notes:

The event is now available to view on YouTube:

For further comment or information, please contact Wales Humanists Coordinator Kathy Riddick via kathy@humanists.uk or phone 07881 625 378.

Wales Humanists is 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.

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