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Humanists UK calls for end to religious discrimination as UN reviews UK human rights

Humanists UK has called on the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to address religious discrimination in the UK, as it prepares to carry out a review of the country’s human rights performance. Humanists UK argued that the state discriminates against the non-religious in a wide range of ways. It said that urgent reform is needed to ensure a society that upholds freedom of belief, thought, expression, and choice.

Humanists UK submitted evidence to the UN as part of its ongoing ‘Universal Periodic Review’ of the UK. This is a process, led by the UN Human Rights Council, by which every state has its human rights record reviewed. As part of this, other states and NGOs are able to make recommendations to improve the human rights situation and monitor the fulfilment of states’ obligations. This is the fourth time that the UK has been reviewed, with the last one taking place in 2017.

Humanists UK made ten recommendations to be included in the review to combat areas of discrimination experienced by non-religious people in the UK. These are across education, employment, marriage law, and private and family life, as well as threats to the UK’s underlying human rights framework. They are:

  • Drop plans to weaken sections 3 and 6 of the Human Rights Act which would make it harder for non-religious people to legally challenge discriminatory practices.
  • Remove the power of state-funded schools to religiously discriminate in admissions.
  • Remove the power of state-funded schools to religiously discriminate in employment.
  • Reform religious education in England and Northern Ireland so that the curriculum is fully inclusive of humanism.
  • Replace the requirement for compulsory religious worship in state-funded schools with fully inclusive assemblies appropriate for all.
  • Abolish the power of parents in England and Northern Ireland to remove their children from relationships and sex education, and also remove the power of faith schools to teach the subject only in line with their religious beliefs.
  • Revise the Human Rights Act to ensure that it covers all organisations providing public services, including under contract.
  • Legalise assisted dying for the terminally ill and incurably suffering.
  • Legally recognise humanist marriages in England and Wales without further delay.
  • Abolish the blasphemy law in Northern Ireland.

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

‘The Universal Periodic Review is an important mechanism for holding governments to account for their human rights records. We are pleased that the governments of the UK have enacted reforms called for by Humanists UK since the UK’s last review in 2017. These include teaching humanism in schools, legal recognition of humanist marriages, access to abortions, and ending religious discrimination in teacher employment.

‘However, there is still a long way to go. We hope the UN will take up our calls and hold the UK to account.’


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read Humanists UK’s submission.

Read more about our work at the UN.

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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