Writing for The Times on Saturday, Home Secretary Suella Braverman has announced that the Home Office will work with the Department for Education (DfE) to issue new guidance to address the issue of blasphemy in schools. The news comes after four pupils at Kettlethorpe High School were suspended after a Quran was dropped, and in the context of other previous incidents of a similar nature. Earlier this week Humanists UK launched a petition aimed at the Home Office and DfE calling for the two departments to take precisely the action that the Government has now announced. It has today welcomed the Home Secretary’s announcement.
This week Humanists UK said ‘Great Britain does not have any ‘blasphemy’ laws – and the Government should assist schools to resist pressure to act as if it does.’ It asked for:
- A statement that ‘suspending children from school for “blasphemy” is wrong’
- DfE guidance for schools on free expression and resisting outside influences
- For the Government to ‘empower state schools to stand up to religious bullying’
- Home Office guidance for the police on blasphemy issues.
All of these policy recommendations are now being taken forward.
‘We do not have blasphemy laws in Great Britain, and must not be complicit in the attempts to impose them on this country. There is no right not to be offended. There is no legal obligation to be reverent towards any religion. The lodestar of our democracy is freedom of speech. Nobody can demand respect for their belief system, even if it is a religion. People are legally entitled to reject — and to leave — any religion. There is no apostasy law in this country. The act of accusing someone of apostasy or blasphemy is effectively inciting violence upon that person.
‘Everyone who lives here has to accept this country’s pluralism and freedom of speech and belief. One person’s freedom to, for example, convert from Islam to Christianity is the same freedom that allows a Muslim to say that Jesus was a prophet but not God Incarnate.
‘This freedom is absolute. It doesn’t vary case by case. It can’t be disapplied at a local level. And no one living in this country can legitimately claim that this doesn’t apply to them because they belong to a different tradition.
‘The way to ensure community cohesion and peace is not to cave into bullies, nor to demand that people aren’t “unnecessarily offensive”. The right approach is to defend our pluralist, free society very robustly indeed.’
A Humanists UK spokesperson commented:
‘We strongly welcome these comments and the announced action to prevent incidents like the one in Kettlethorpe from reoccurring. This country repealed its blasphemy laws in 2008, and has a strong tradition of free speech and expression. Freedom of religion or belief is just as important a right, but like all others that right does not extend to interfering with others’ rights and freedoms. It also focuses on protecting people and not religions themselves.
‘We hope the Government will now act swiftly to introduce the promised guidance and look forward to working with them towards this outcome.’
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