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Humanists to launch International Ministerial on Freedom of Religion or Belief alongside Prince of Wales, Foreign Secretary, and religious leaders

On 5-6 July, the UK Government is hosting the annual International Ministerial on Freedom of Religion or Belief in London. The focus will be ‘to urge increased global action on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) for all.’ Humanists UK is participating extensively in the Conference. Its Chief Executive Andrew Copson (in his capacity as President of Humanists International) is speaking at the opening ceremony, alongside major global religious leaders and the Foreign Secretary. Humanist delegates are also participating in other events in the main programme, Humanists UK is hosting or participating in seven fringe events, and it has a stall.

Andrew Copson’s opening speech will be made in a session that also features a speech from the Foreign Secretary, video contributions from the Prime Minister and Prince Charles, and speeches from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi, and Muslim and Sikh leaders.

Ahead of the event, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘We’re pleased to be able to take part in the Ministerial, and delighted that the theme is #forbforall. In many countries it is impossible to be openly non-religious. 13 have the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy, many more have prison sentences for these “crimes”, and several have seen humanists be murdered. In many countries, it is effectively impossible to be openly non-religious.

‘To truly live up to the #forbforall theme, it is vital that all countries repeal their laws against blasphemy and apostasy, and implement effective programmes to combat the widespread stigma religious minorities and the non-religious face. That’s what we’ll be using this conference as an opportunity to push for.’

Humanists UK’s participation at the Ministerial

Main programme:

On 5 July from 10-11, Andrew Copson will be speaking at the opening plenary session. He is also speaking at a session at 13:30-14:45, on ‘Beyond the constitution: building blocks and incentives for effective protection’.

On 6 July 14:00-15:15, the Humanist Association of Ghana’s Roslyn Mould will be speaking on a panel on ‘Civil society as a driver for change’.

On 6 July 14:00-15:15, Young Humanists UK’s Alavari Jeevathol will be speaking on a panel on ‘Engaging the next generation’.


Humanists UK will have a stall in the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, accessible to delegates.

Fringe events in Parliament, 5 July:

Humanists are participating in or co-organising the following fringes in Parliament:

9:45-11: ‘Preventing Violence, Promoting Freedom of Belief’ – Attlee Suite, Portcullis House.

A collaboration between member organisations of the Gender and FoRB working group of the UK FoRB Forum, including Humanists UK. Speakers include humanists Gulalai Ismail (Aware Girls, Pakistan), and Roslyn Mould (Humanist Association of Ghana).

12:45-13:45: ‘The impact of COVID-19 on International Freedom of Religion or Belief, and what can be learned from international responses’ – IPU room, House of Commons.

Organised by the Freedom Declared Foundation. Speakers include Emma Wadsworth-Jones, Humanists at Risk Coordinator, Humanists International.

15:00-16:00: ‘Free to Believe… or Not: End Criminalisation of Apostasy and Blasphemy’ – IPU room, House of Commons. Organised by Humanists UK in collaboration with the Jubilee Campaign and Set My People Free.

Today over 70 countries criminalise blasphemy and 22 criminalise apostasy. Of these, 13 maintain the death penalty for apostasy or blasphemy. Even where the death penalty is not applied the law has a chilling effect on the legitimate exercise of fundamental human rights as noted by the UN Secretary General in his report on the death penalty. Many countries see extrajudicial murders for blasphemy and apostasy. This session will focus on these harms and the need to see all such laws repealed.

Speakers include Gulalai Ismail, founder, Aware Girls, and global ambassador, Humanists International (Pakistan); Joel Voordewind, former Member of Parliament of the Netherlands; and Chiara Porro, Ambassador of the Australian Embassy to the Holy See. Chaired by Lord David Alton, Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief.

17:00-18:00: ‘Freedom of Religion or Belief in Nigeria’ – Committee room 5, House of Commons. Organised by Humanists UK in collaboration with CSW and Tearfund.

Nigeria’s Federal Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion or belief and guarantees freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief to all citizens, including the right to change religion or belief. But in practice, and particularly in the Shari’a states north and centre of the country, constitutional provisions protecting the right to freedom of religion or belief are frequently disregarded, with individuals from religious and belief communities regularly experiencing restrictions of their right to FoRB, which also limit their enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms stipulated in national and international legislation, including freedom of expression, property rights, and equality before the law.

Speakers include Dr Leo Igwe, Founder of the Nigerian Humanist Association; Rev Yunusa Sabo Nmadu, CEO of CSW Nigeria, and General Secretary of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA); Reuben Buhari,  CSW Nigeria Press Officer; and Haleemah Oladamade Ahmad, Senior Research Associate and Chief Editor, Da’wah Institute. Chaired by All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group member and Shadow Foreign Minister Lord Collins of Highbury.

Fringe events in the QEII, 6 July:

Humanists UK has the following fringes in the QEII Conference Centre, accessible to delegates:

9:30-10:00: ‘Learning FoRB: the role of schools and education’ – Ground floor, Churchill.

Outside of the family, schools and other educational settings are the major influence on our attitudes, beliefs, and values. They can do a lot of damage to freedom of religion or belief but can also play a role in advancing this human right. School structures, the school curriculum, and other aspects of school ethos can all play a part in supporting freedom of religion or belief for all. This session will explore that.

Speakers include Gulalai Ismail, founder, Aware Girls, and global ambassador, Humanists International (Pakistan); Naomi Green, Northern Ireland Coalition for Inclusive Education/Belfast Islamic Centre; and Ed Pawson, Deputy Chair, Religious Education Council of England and Wales. Chaired by Andrew Copson, President, Humanists International

14:00-14:30: ‘Religion and the state: secularism and FoRB’ – Ground floor, Churchill.

Freedom of religion or belief is a key component of secularism as a political idea, together with equal treatment, and religion-state separation. But how healthy is secularism today and how successful are secular states in practice at securing freedom of religion or belief? Considering states from the US to Norway, France, the UK, and India, this session will examine the impact of secularism on FORB.

Speakers include Commissioner Fred Davie, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF); Debora Spini, faculty at New York University, Florence; and Gita Sahgal, writer and documentary film-maker. Chaired by Andrew Copson, President, Humanists International and author, Very Short Introduction to Secularism.

6 Jul 15-15:30: ‘Measuring freedom: quantifying progress and warning signs for FoRB around the world’ – First floor, Pickwick.

If we want to make progress on freedom of religion or belief and target our resources and attention, we need ways of assessing and measuring freedom in different countries. Measurements can tell us how well different states are doing, and give early warning signs if standards are going backwards. This session will examine different ways that implementation of freedom can be measured, comparing them with the instruments used to measure other human rights.

Speakers include Yasmin Ahmed, UK Director, Human Rights Watch; and Emma Wadsworth Jones, Humanists At Risk Coordinator, Humanists International. Chaired by Andrew Copson, President, Humanists International


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 more about the Ministerial.

Read more about our work on international campaigns.

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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