‘Blasphemy laws are NEVER justifiable’ – Andrew Copson

15 September, 2023

Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion or belief are the very bedrock upon which our humanist ideals rest. They are the measure of an open, modern, and democratic society. These are our human rights, and as humanists, we champion them at every turn

We never want to lose sight of the fact that millions of humanists worldwide risk death. To openly deny the existence of gods, to leave a faith behind, or even to advocate for a secular democracy, is so often met with imprisonment, torture, and violence. As you read this, the President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, Mubarak Bala, sits in prison serving a 24-year sentence for ‘blasphemy’. He is not the first, and tragically will not be the last, outspoken humanist to risk death and imprisonment. Blasphemy or ‘apostasy’ are punishable by death in 13 countries, and an imprisonable offence in over 40 more. ‘Insult to religion’ laws put religious feelings above human rights.

Yet Northern Ireland still has a blasphemy law. And, when you consider that protesters are being hanged for ‘enmity against God’ in Iran and religious mobs are attacking minorities in Pakistan, the presence of Northern Ireland’s blasphemy law on the world stage is vulgar and downright dangerous

In 2015, Humanists UK co-founded the international End Blasphemy Laws campaign. And since then, a roster of nations, including Greece, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Malta, France, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, and Scotland, have repealed their blasphemy laws. However, recent developments in Denmark and Sweden have demonstrated that blasphemy laws, though abolished, can return. As our patron Kenan Malik writes in the Observer:

‘The burning of symbolic objects, whether books or flags, has long been part of the tradition of protest, and in an age when the right to protest is continually curtailed – even within liberal democracies – we should not lightly dispense with it.’

Appeasing bullies doesn’t work – it merely emboldens them. You must draw a line somewhere. That line in the sand has always been clear for us. You can’t sacrifice fundamental human rights.

The answer to threats of Islamist terrorism or far-right bigotry is not to re-introduce blasphemy laws. To do so is an affront to freedom of speech – the very freedom millions across the world are fighting and dying for, and on which every other freedom we have depends

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 020 3675 0959.

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Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 110,000 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.