Humanists UK at UN calls on UK to close illegal schools, recognise humanist marriages

28 March, 2023

In its last intervention at the UN Human Rights Council this session, Humanists UK has called on the UK Government to tackle illegal religious schools and to legally recognise humanist marriages.

Speaking via a video intervention during the Universal Periodic Review of the UK’s human rights performance, Public Affairs Manager Karen Wright stated:

‘We are deeply concerned by the Government’s abandoning legislation to shut unregistered schools. In England the law defines what it means to be a school – it must teach English, maths, and science. But, paradoxically, some full-time settings have evaded these minimum standards by only teaching religious texts. The pupils in these settings then find themselves trapped in places where they receive no secular education at all. They can find themselves the victims of physical and sexual abuse. When they leave, they are unable to function in modern Britain. A new law is urgently needed to fix the problem.

‘We also remain concerned over the UK continuing to delay the legal recognition of humanist marriages despite the High Court ruling in 2020 that this amounts to discrimination. Since 2013, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act has given the Government power to enact legal recognition of humanist marriages by order but it has refused to do so ever since. This is a denial of humanists’ freedom of religion or belief.

Universal Periodic Review 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. Last year, Humanists UK, also submitted evidence to the UN with ten recommendations to combat areas of discrimination experienced by non-religious people in the UK.


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 full intervention.

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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.