‘Stop the blasphemy backslide’, humanists tell UN

7 March, 2024

Humanists UK and the Danish Humanist Society delivered a joint intervention to the UN Human rights Council, raising their concerns over recent backsliding on anti-blasphemy laws and de facto blasphemy bans that stifle free expression. Delivered during an interactive dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, the intervention welcomed her report on hatred on the basis of religion or belief that found that even deeply and profoundly hurtful expression does not necessarily justify criminal sanctions in accordance with international human rights law.

The intervention was delivered via video by Humanists UK Public Affairs and Campaigns Officer, Antonia Mäurer. Responding to the Special Rapporteur’s report, she said:

‘We are dismayed that Denmark amended its Penal Code to ban the ‘inappropriate treatment’ of religious texts. Having repealed its blasphemy laws in 2017, this is a backwards step for Denmark in fulfilling its obligation to promote and protect the rights to freedom of religion or belief and of expression. Together these rights allow for the exchange of ideas which is necessary for a tolerant society to flourish because it allows for hatred to be challenged.  We are further alarmed that the UK Government does not appear to recognise Denmark’s new law as a de facto anti-blasphemy law.’

The intervention also highlighted examples of stifled expression in the UK. In January last year, the Advertising Standards Authority banned an advert in part for being ‘likely to cause offence to Christians’. The following month, four pupils at a school with no religious character were suspended for damaging a copy of the Qu’ran. They received death threats when the news broke, yet one of the pupil’s mother’s said she did not want to press charges for threats of violence at a press conference alongside the police.

Humanists UK’s successful intervention prompted the Home Office to issue new guidance for the police, reminding them that their duty was to uphold citizen’s rights and protect them from threats and violence against them, not enforce religious blasphemy codes at the behest of angry mobs.


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

Read the full intervention.

Read more about our work on repealing blasphemy laws.

Read more about our international work.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 120,000 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.