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Northern Ireland Humanists calls for blasphemy law repeal and free speech protections in new hate crime law

Northern Ireland Humanists has called on the Department of Justice to use upcoming legislation on hate crime to repeal the country’s blasphemy laws and strengthen protections for freedom of expression. In response to a consultation on reforming hate crime laws, Northern Ireland Humanists stated:

‘Any legislative reform to hate crime laws in Northern Ireland would be an ideal vehicle for repeal of both the common law and statutory offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel, as occurred in Scotland [last year].’

Blasphemy and blasphemous libel remain criminal offences in Northern Ireland – the only part of the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland to have not yet repealed these laws. Repealing them is a policy supported by Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance, the Green Party, and People Before Profit. The UUP does not have an official policy position, but most of its MLAs support repeal. Northern Ireland Justice Minister Naomi Long recently called these laws ‘archaic and have no place in modern society.’ The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has also repeatedly recommended that the Northern Ireland Government repeal these laws.

Northern Ireland Humanists also strongly believes that any new hate crime law needs to include explicit protections for critical expressions against religious beliefs. This would ensure that legitimate free speech about religions is not wrongly treated as a hate crime. Such protections already exist in hate crime laws in the rest of the UK. But they do not exist in Northern Ireland. This is an opportunity to resolve this gap.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented:

‘We launched our campaign to repeal the blasphemy laws in 2019. The quick result was almost all the major political parties in Northern Ireland coming out in favour of repeal. Building on that, since the resumption of power-sharing, we have met with more than 15 MLAs about this, garnering support from those in all the major parties, including from some within the DUP, and with all relevant ministers.

‘Since Scotland voted to repeal its blasphemy law last year, Northern Ireland has been the last part of the UK, Ireland, and crown dependencies to have blasphemy laws. England and Wales repealed theirs in 2008. The Republic of Ireland did so in 2020, following on from a referendum showing two-thirds support. Since 2015, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Malta, France, New Zealand, Canada, and Greece have all also repealed their laws. It is time for Northern Ireland to do the same.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, media should contact Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator at boyd@humanists.uk or phone 07918 975795.

Read the consultation response.

Read the consultation.

Read the Justice Minister’s comments on repealing the blasphemy laws.

Read the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s recommendation.

Read more about our work on repealing blasphemy laws.

Read more about our work on freedom of expression.

Northern Ireland Humanists is part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland. 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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