Humanists UK condemns threats to freedom of religion or belief at UN Human Rights Council

2 March, 2018

Dr David Harvey (left) speaking at the UNHRC on behalf of Humanists UK

In a statement at the 37th regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Humanists UK has condemned the threat to freedom of religion or belief posed by anti-blasphemy and anti-apostasy laws, as well as the cynical use of ‘conscience clauses’ to justify discrimination.

As part of an interactive dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, Humanists UK welcomed his criticism of the anti-blasphemy and anti-apostasy laws in a number of countries and reiterated the fact that such laws ‘are frequently used to target humanists and non-believers specifically.’

The intervention also warned about the less explicit threat to freedom of religion or belief posed by false invocations of ‘religious liberty’, explaining that:

‘in the UK, this is currently manifested in the appeals to religious freedom made by the proprietors of some religious schools when seeking to justify intolerance towards LGBT people. Elsewhere around the world, the pervasive use of ‘conscience clauses’ dangerously confuses the right to hold and express one’s beliefs with a right to arbitrarily discriminate against people on grounds including gender, sexual orientation, and religion or belief too. Current controversies surrounding the provision of sexual health and abortion services to women in the United States are a troubling example of this.’

Humanists UK called on UN member states to ‘heed the advice of Dr Shaheed and his predecessors in adopting a “deep grounding of secularity based on human rights” when dealing with religion and belief. At the very least this should involve the repeal of all anti-blasphemy and anti-apostasy laws, but it ought also to entail proper restrictions on religious behaviour that unjustifiably infringes the rights of others.’

Finally, in a tribute to former UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Asma Jahangir, who died earlier this year, Humanists UK praised her dogged insistence that ‘the rights of the non-religious be defended just as vigorously as the rights of religious people’. Her work fighting for human rights and democracy wherever they were threatened was and is appreciated by all.


For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on

Read the intervention:

Read the report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief:

Read more about Humanists UK’s international campaigns:

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.