Hate crime wording ‘discourages non-religious people from reporting crime’

27 January, 2021

Non-religious people, and in particular ‘apostates’ from high-control religions, are inadequately protected by current hate crime law

Humanists UK has called for hate crime laws in England and Wales to be amended to make explicit that hatred against humanists is prohibited, in response to a call for evidence by the Joint Committee on Human Rights into freedom of expression.

The current situation is especially concerning in light of the harassment and abuse faced by many so-called ‘apostates’ (people who leave high-control religions), such as ex-Muslims and ex-Charedis, many of whom also identify as humanists.

Hate crimes are acts of violence or hostility directed at people because of who they are or who someone thinks they are, this includes a person’s race, religion, disability, transgender identity, or sexual orientation.

Currently, the wording of hate crime legislation refers only to people who are religious or do not hold religious beliefs, but does not refer to people who positively hold non-religious worldviews such as humanism. However, under the Human Rights Act, hate crime laws must be read in a way as to protect non-religious worldviews. Furthermore, the fact that the relevant hate crime is known as ‘religious hatred’ also means that people who are the victims of hatred because of their lack of belief do not realise they are protected.

The lack of clarity on these points means that most people do not understand that such beliefs are protected, leading to almost half of apostate victims of hate crime being unaware that their experience amounted to a crime and just over half believing that they would not have been taken seriously or that no action would have resulted if they reported it to police.

Humanists UK also called for other measures to strengthen freedom of expression in the UK, including the abolition of blasphemy laws in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the introduction of national legislation on buffer zones outside abortion clinics, and welcomed previous action by the Joint Committee to protect freedom of expression on university campuses, which was brought about at Humanists UK’s prompting.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented,

‘Humanists are one of the most viciously persecuted groups around the world, with 85 countries carrying out severe and systemic persecution. This includes 13 countries where becoming a humanist or expressing humanist views is punished by the death penalty.

‘Human rights laws in the UK are clear that humanists are included in their protections and, further, all other laws, including hate crime laws, must be interpreted in accordance with this. Therefore, there is no legal or moral argument for why clear inclusion is missing from hate crime laws. Although attacks on humanists in the UK are thankfully not common, this remains a real and pressing problem for victims. It has an impact upon their choice to report incidents to police.’


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 020 3675 0959.

Read about the Joint Committee inquiry on Human Rights on freedom of expression.

The Joint Committee will publish Humanists UK’s submission in due course.

Read more about our work on harassment and incitement.

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 supports ‘apostates’ through its Faith to Faithless programme, founded by apostates, which provides peer support, mentoring, and opportunities to network with people who have had similar experiences. Faith to Faithless also provides apostate safeguarding training to frontline service workers, such as police, social services, helpline staff, and charities.