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Human rights protections are for people not beliefs, says UK Government

In a statement welcomed by the British Humanist Association (BHA), David Lidington MP, Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has said, ‘Our freedom of religion or belief policy is consistent with the key message of the International Humanist and Ethical Union’s (IHEU) report: that international human rights law exists to protect the rights of individuals to manifest their beliefs, not to protect the beliefs themselves. The report records a sharp increase in the number of prosecutions for alleged criticism of religion by atheists on social media. Protecting freedom of expression online is a priority for the British Government and we have consistently argued against attempts to create a new international standard, in order to protect religions from criticism. We look forward to the 2013 IHEU report, which, like their 2012 report, we anticipate will provide useful information to help protect the rights and freedoms of people of all religions or beliefs including those who have no religion or belief.’

The comments came in response to a parliamentary question tabled by Angie Bray MP which sought Government reactions to the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) report Freedom of Thought 2012: A Global Report on Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists and the Non-religious. The report, which was the first to systematically highlight the limitations on freedom of thought for the non-religious in over 60 countries across the world was published in December and presented cases and laws in a range of nations that discriminate against people on the basis of their atheism, humanism or other non-religious beliefs and limit their freedom of expression. The report also presented cases of persecution of individuals for online statements of identity, which whilst not unique to the non-religious, are shown to be growing at an alarming rate against atheists specifically.

Angie Bray, Conservative MP for Ealing Central and Acton, is a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion or Belief, of which the BHA is a registered stakeholder.

The Government response is in keeping with assurances given to the BHA at a meeting this week with Baroness Warsi, Senior Minister of State at the FCO, who confirmed on that occasion that the UK would continue to advocate for and protect the human rights of the non religious as part of its work to promote freedom of religion or belief worldwide.

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the BHA, said, ‘The UK Government has a vital role to play in defending and advancing freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression globally and with one of the largest proportions of non-religious people in the world, we are very pleased that the Government is taking seriously the needs of humanists in this context.

‘British humanists have always been internationally concerned – the BHA was one of the founding members of IHEU after the Second World War and next year, we will host the triennial World Humanist Congress in Oxford, with a special focus on freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression. We want to see the UK Government be similarly at the forefront in opposing blasphemy and defamation of religion laws, securing freedom from discrimination for people regardless of their religion or belief and welcome the steps towards this role that ministers are taking.’


For further comment or information contact BHA Head of Public Affairs on 0773 8435059 or at

The Freedom of Thought Report website:

Freedom of Thought 2012 – A Global Report on Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists and the Nonreligious:

The International Humanist and Ethical Union:

Previous BHA news article – New report shows global discrimination against humanists, atheists and the non-religious:

New report shows global discrimination against humanists, atheists and the non-religious

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is the world umbrella group bringing together more than 100 Humanist, atheist, rationalist, secularist, and freethought organizations from 40 countries.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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