Humanists UK calls for inclusion of non-religious in press standards code

13 April, 2022

Newspaper folded above a keyboardHumanists UK has responded to IMPRESS’ public consultation on proposed changes to its Standards Code and guidance. IMPRESS stands for Independent Monitor for the Press. It regulates over 190 news publications. The proposed changes intend to make the standards code more equitable. But Humanists UK has highlighted the exclusion of the non-religious and called for this to change.

The guidance incorrectly states that the code adopts the protected characteristics identified in the Equality Act 2010. But it narrowly states ‘religion’ only as a protected characteristic, while the Equality Act expressly protects ‘religion or belief’. The ‘belief’ part is important because that is what refers to non-religious beliefs, such as humanism. As such, the discrimination clauses of the code and guidance are themselves discriminatory as they privilege the protection of religious people while excluding those who hold non-religious beliefs.

Furthermore, various paragraphs of the guidance also cause problems. IMPRESS’ guidance rightly cites the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 which identifies that the criticism, even ridicule, insult, or abuse of religions or the beliefs and practices of their adherents does not amount to incitement of hatred. However, the guidance then advises against expression that falls far below even the proposed lowered threshold of ‘not encourag[ing] hatred or abuse against any group based on their protected characteristics’. For example, it appears to warn against expressions such as ‘extremist Christians’ or ‘radical Islamists’ without explanation as to when such terminology is or is not appropriate.

Conversely, the guidance states that ‘burn in hell’ should not be understood as language that encourages hatred, as its consequences are in an after-life and not the physical world. This ignores the importance of the speaker’s intent, which may well be to encourage hatred on account of protected characteristics. It also overlooks that targeting, for example, LGBT+ people with such language can very easily constitute hatred or abuse.

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

‘We welcome this consultation and hope IMPRESS will take note of how their guidance contradicts the values their code intends to uphold. The guidance risks censoring legitimate criticism of religions whilst permitting hatred and abuse when it is overtly religious in origin. Further, by excluding non-religious beliefs, IMPRESS’ code and guidance fails to award equal protection, as required by the law.

‘We hope IMPRESS will amend the code and guidance in line with our response.’


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 020 3675 0959.

Read the consultation response.

Read more Humanist UK’s non-religious inclusive language guide.

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.