Humanists UK welcomes Khan’s Social Cohesion Review

27 March, 2024

Humanists UK has welcomed the findings of The Khan Review: Threats to Social Cohesion and Democratic Resilience, that recommends legislative restrictions on protests immediately outside primary and secondary schools, for police to have a comprehensive understanding of ‘apostate and intra-faith hatred’ and for the Government to gather intelligence on blasphemy related incitement and violence. Humanists UK submitted evidence to the Review by Independent Adviser for Social Cohesion and Resilience, Dame Sara Khan.

The Review coins the term ‘freedom-restricting harassment’ to describe ‘threatening, intimidatory or abusive harassment online and/or offline which is intended to make people or institutions censor or self-censor out of fear’. An online poll commission by the Review found that:

  • 44% of respondents had witnessed freedom-restricting harassment online
  • 44% of respondents had witnessed freedom-restricting harassment in person
  • 76% of respondents reported restricting expressing their personal views in public out of fear of harassment to themselves or others

Humanists UK has raised several instances of this kind of harassment when anti-blasphemy protests have resulted in undue censorship.

Recommendation for protecting teachers and pupils against harassment

Schools have been at the centre of recent controversy. In 2023 four pupils were suspended from a school in Wakefield after a Quran was damaged, and in 2021 a teacher was suspended and later forced into hiding after protests erupted from Muslim parents in response to images of Muhammad being shown in a class. Humanists UK called on the UK Government to provide written guidance on upholding free expression and tolerance in schools, as well as instructions for the police and local councils on how to robustly handle these situations and threats of violence. Although the then Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, announced that new guidance would be issued, this was later denied by the Department of Education. To date no guidance has been issued. 

Highlighting the case of the suspended teacher, the Khan review is critical of Kirklees Council, West Yorkshire Police and Batley Multi Academy Trust for ‘failing to understand the seriousness’ of the trauma experienced by the teacher. It goes on to say that there was a ‘disproportionate concern for not causing offence to the religious sensibilities of those who, unaware of the facts, chose to engage in intimidation and harassment’. Humanists UK welcomes the recommendations to restrict protests (with possible exceptions for industrial action) around primary and secondary schools with a 150m buffer zone, as well as providing support for teachers and schools who find themselves at the centre of such protests.

Recommendations for tackling anti-blasphemy incitement and violence

Another example that could be considered blasphemy related harassment is the protests outside Cineworld by Muslim groups that led to the cancellation of screenings of The Lady of Heaven – a film considered ‘blasphemous’ by protestors in part for depicting the Prophet Muhammed’s face. However, the film was scripted from a Shia Muslim perspective, which takes a more lenient interpretation on the prohibition of images of the Prophet compared to other Muslim denominations. Its subsequent banning was therefore a censorship of different theological interpretations of Islam.

Cineworld stated that this decision had been made ‘to ensure the safety of [its] staff and customers,’ setting a dangerous precedent for freedom of expression in UK cinema. The Review rightly highlights that appeasing such protests undermines cohesion in the long-term because it ‘appears to encourage those who create an intimidating environment to enforce their beliefs, irrespective of the rights of others’. Humanists UK therefore supports the Review’s recommendation that the Government improves ‘assessment and intelligence gathering of blasphemy related incitement and violence, and extreme incidences of freedom-restricting harassment which pose a threat or potential threat to life’.

Humanists UK also supports the recommendation that victims of freedom-restricting harassment are officially recognised as victims, which aims at improving support for victims and the accountability of perpetrators. This recognition could pave the way to addressing the ‘disproportionate concern’ given to avoid offending religious sentiments  and better challenge those who choose to engage in acts of intimidation and harassment.

Recommendation for understanding ‘apostasy’.

The Review takes into account the specific experiences ‘apostates’ – noting that those who have left a religion are more likely to experience assaults compared to other segments of the non-religious population. It further highlights the challenges of reporting ‘intra-community’ harassment when the perpetrators can often be family members – an experience often reported by Faith to Faithless service-users.

Faith to Faithless is a part of Humanists UK, which works to support individuals who leave high-control religious groups, and raise awareness of the issues they face. Leaving a high-control religion often means rejection from family and community, and apostates may become homeless, isolated, and at risk of abuse. Humanists UK and Faith to Faithless welcome the recommendation that each police force in England has a dedicated safety officer, specialising in harassment, who has ‘a comprehensive understanding of apostate and intra-faith hatred, and the theological narrative employed by perpetrators that incite hatred and cause harassment’.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Kathy Riddick says:

‘We welcome Dame Sara Khan’s timely review on social cohesion and resilience and thank her for engaging with us on these important issues. We are pleased to see our concerns, and the experiences of Faith to Faithless service users reflected in the contents of the Review.

‘We call on the Government to implement the Review’s recommendations – especially those that  rightly protect victims of harassment and incitement, recognise the hatred experienced by apostates because of their beliefs, and that aim to address blasphemy-related incitement and violence.’

Humanist UK Education Campaigns Manager Lewis Young commented:

‘Schools should be a place of learning with children and staff able to go about their day free from intimidation. We strongly welcome the recommendation for the UK Government to implement a protest buffer zone around primary and secondary schools, and provide more support to staff and pupils should incidents like those seen in Batley and Wakefield occur elsewhere. We hope the Government acts swiftly to implement them.’


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Kathy Riddick at or phone 07534 248 596.

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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.