We are firmly committed to the protection and promotion of human rights and equality, as exemplified in documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These rights represent shared values rooted in our common humanity and our shared human needs, transcending particular cultural and religious traditions. This regard for human rights and the equal dignity of all human beings underpins many of our policies.
Humanist principles of justice and of valuing the dignity of each individual also lead us to support equality and oppose unwarranted discrimination. Humanists have been deeply involved in campaigning against discrimination – including LGBT discrimination, sexism, and racism – for decades. We also support the strengthening of children’s rights, in particular their right to freedom of religion or belief, and to form their own beliefs free from coercion or parental control. Humanists have been in the forefront of developing modern ideas of human rights, and have been prominent human rights defenders.
Humanists condemn racism and racial discrimination in all its forms and are committed to campaigning for racial equality across all aspects of society. We have a positive track record throughout our existence in the fight for racial equality, from organising the first global race congress in 1911, to campaigning against colonialism in the early twentieth century, and for laws against racial discrimination from the mid-century. This commitment has continued through to today.
Humanists believe in equality based on sex and gender and therefore support the feminist principle of the inherent equality of women. We are a member of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, and a founding member of the ACTION: FGM coalition, which is dedicated to eradicating the practice in the UK by 2030.
For many years before 1967 we campaigned for decriminalisation of homosexuality. For over 40 years, LGBT Humanists has called for equality for LGBT people. LGBT Humanists was founded in 1979 in response to the Gay News blasphemy trial, and we’ve blazed a trail since then arguing for equality by challenging religious opposition to LGBT rights. From equalising the age of consent and campaigning for same-sex marriage, to more recent campaigns to ban the horrific practice of ‘conversion therapy’, we have been resolute in calling for equal rights.
The first decade of the twenty-first century in the UK saw:
- unprecedented measures to increase equality between individuals and outlaw irrelevant discrimination, culminating in the Equality Act 2010
- positive developments in human rights with the coming into effect in 2000 of the Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporates the Council of Europe’s Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) directly into UK law
- the foundation of the UK’s first Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), as well as the Scottish Human Rights Commission, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.
We were involved in advocating and supporting all of this progress and our then Chief Executive served on the UK Government’s steering group to plan for the EHRC, and on the reference group for the 2006 Equalities and Discrimination Law Reviews. She also co-chaired (with a Muslim) the Religion and Belief Consultative Group, in which role the two of them were charged with keeping all the religion or belief groups informed about general developments in the review.
Human rights law is of particular importance to us since it establishes beyond doubt that it is unlawful to discriminate between religious and non-religious beliefs. It also makes discrimination based on race and sex unlawful and is, therefore, the most important instrument in fighting religious discrimination, racism, sexism and homophobia and transphobia, not only in the courts but also in driving a normative change in social attitudes.
Our work for freedom of religion or belief
We concentrate on resolving situations where principles of human rights or equality are compromised in law or policy and where people are unfairly privileged or discriminated against because of their religion or belief. This involves defending existing protections from attack or repeal; working to end unjustified exemptions from equality and human rights law, such as many of those enjoyed by religious groups; and working for the enforcement of equality and human rights law in key areas where it is not being enforced. For example, we work for:
- a fair and just balance between the right of one person to express or manifest a religion or belief and the rights of others not to suffer discrimination, where the two may conflict
- defending freedom of speech and expression, including through the repeal of blasphemy laws – both domestically and internationally, and through wider work on campus and in advertising, while having appropriate limits on harassment and incitement to violence, and the right balance in law on conscientious objection
- an end to irrelevant religious discrimination in publicly funded posts such as non-teaching jobs in religious schools or general pastoral support jobs in hospitals and prisons, which are often unfairly reserved only for religious people or people of particular religions
- equal treatment of the non-religious according to need in the limited number of roles that are legitimately reserved to meet a specific and specialist need such as belief-specific pastoral support for patients and staff in healthcare, prisons, or other institutional settings. In these settings, specific non-religious support is often lacking
- an end to the exemption from equality law for non-denominational organisations whose rules exclude non-religious people, as used to be the case for the Scouts and the Guides
- an end to religious privilege in marriage laws, through the legalisation of humanist and same-sex marriage across the UK
- fair and equal treatment of religious and non-religious perspectives in public broadcasting, including, for example, opening up Thought for the Day to humanist perspectives
- regulation around so-called ‘religious courts’ to ensure equal treatment for all under the law, regardless of religion or belief.
We also work to ensure the freedom of religion or belief of religious people, where we think their freedoms would do no harm to others.
There are other human rights and equality issues we have worked on in recent years that have seen success, for example, the 2008 repeal of the blasphemy laws in England and Wales, and the Scouts’ and Guides’ 2014 decision to admit non-religious members for the first time.
As a human rights-based charity, almost everything we campaign on is underpinned by human rights. Other areas of our work that also have human rights and equalities angles include our campaigns around state-funded religious schools, religious education, for public service reform, and on ethical issues such as abortion and assisted dying.
Our work against racism
We have in general stood up for and called for the strengthening of equality and human rights laws. Our work is built on equality and human rights, it’s at the core of everything we do, and laws against racism are the foundational pillar of the former and at the heart of the latter. We organised the first global race congress in 1911 and campaigned against colonialism in the early twentieth century.
- We worked extensively to improve race equality laws during the passage of the 2006 and 2010 Equality Acts.
- We were the only organisation to campaign against the removal of Windrush and the Race Relations Act from the History national curriculum in England in 2013.
- We have done a significant amount of work exposing ethnic segregation caused by faith-based selection – the largest single cause of such segregation amongst state schools. This includes our 2016 response to the Government’s green paper which showed that allowing free schools to choose all pupils on religious grounds will lead to increased ethnic and religious segregation across England, and our 2015 report, ‘An Unholy Mess: how virtually all religiously selective state schools in England are breaking the law’. We have also actively campaigned against such discrimination, such as exposing false claims by the Church of England and Catholic Education Service that many of their schools take a majority of pupils from Muslim backgrounds. We also took a complaint in 2014 to the Office of the Schools adjudicator, which was upheld that the London Oratory School admissions policy was both racially and socio-economically discriminatory, and exposed serious concerns about racism and bullying in independent Steiner schools.
- We have made a large number of substantial public interventions on racial segregation in state schools, many of them involving publishing detailed research, and we frequently collaborate with the Runnymede Trust towards this end. We contributed towards a 2017 report Understanding School Segregation in England: 2011 to 2016, which showed that ‘Faith’ schools in England are ‘more ethnically segregated than schools of no faith’, and have highlighted other research such as a 2019 report by the Education Policy Institute which showed that the chances of parents getting a child into their first choice of school via the appeals process ‘varies considerably by family background, ethnicity, and pupil attainment at primary school,’ and 2018 research which revealed that schools that are more ethnically diverse lead to greater social cohesion between children of different ethnicities.
- We have addressed racism on several occasions at the UN Human Rights Council. In 2020, we called for an end to the persecution of the ethnic minority Uighur population in China. In 2016, we made three interventions in the Council calling for state actions on racism including a joint statement with British Muslims for a Secular Democracy (BMSD) and Arab Humanists, where we spoke out against rising hate crime in the UK following the EU referendum, and the segregationist religious curriculum mandated by the Egyptian authorities, and the rise of nationalist and racist ideologies against refugees in Europe. In 2015, we called out the presence of explicitly racist political parties in Greece.
- In 2020, we coordinated efforts to defend equality and human rights laws in the face of then-imminent government attack, coordinating several race NGOs on this issue such as African Rainbow Family, the Equality Trust, the Race Equality Foundation, Race on the Agenda, and others such as Liberty.
- We’ve been very active in advocacy around community cohesion, including in our work on the Government’s integrated communities strategy.
- Our asylum programme almost exclusively supports BAME people, as does most of our advocacy around international issues.
- Faith to Faithless, our apostate support network, works extensively with apostates from BAME backgrounds who have left high-control or coercive religious groups.
- We have also sought more generally to amplify the voices of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic humanists, throughout our work.
Our work against sexism
- We are a member of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, and a founding member of Action: FGM, which is dedicated to eradicating the practice in the UK by 2030.
- We are a longstanding member of the Sex Education Forum (SEF) and of the PSHE Association and supported the introduction of Relationships and Sex Education to equip young people, but particular, young women and girls with the knowledge needed to reduce unwanted pregnancies, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and to protect them from abuse and exploitation.
- We have been actively involved in all major recent initiatives around the decriminalisation of abortion, particularly in Northern Ireland. This is discussed more on our campaign page on abortion and sexual and reproductive rights.
- We have spoken at the UN Human Rights Council in interactive dialogues with the working group on discrimination against women and called for the decriminalisation of abortion, an offence that is only applied to women and is therefore discriminatory.
- In 2017, we spoke out against mixed-sex religious schools illegally segregating pupils for lessons and other activities by gender, and wrote a letter to Ofsted to oppose such schools who were found to be doing so splitting into two single-sex schools.
Our work against LGBT discrimination
- We have been performing same-sex weddings since before the decriminalisation of homosexuality. We campaigned in favour of the legalisation of first civil partnerships and then same-sex marriage in England and Wales and were a founder member of the Coalition for Equal Marriage.
- We are one of the leading organisations calling for a ban on so-called ‘conversion therapy’ or ‘gay cure’ therapy, a discredited and harmful practice, usually rooted in false and often pseudoscientific religious beliefs about what causes people to be LGBT.
- We have campaigned for the new compulsory subject of Relationships and Sex Education in England, and Relationships and Sexuality Education in Wales, to be fully inclusive of LGBT content, having been instrumental in its introduction.
- In 2019, we organised an open letter to the Secretary of State for Education urging him not to dilute guidance stipulating that schools must teach acceptance for LGBT people at both primary and secondary level. The letter, which featured in the Guardian, was signed by more than 50 religious leaders, humanists, educationalists, and other experts.
- In 2019, we successfully got crowdfunding site GoFundMe to remove a hateful anti-LGBT page which was raising funds to cover the court costs of anti-RSE Birmingham protestors. GoFundMe said the page violated its terms of service after we exposed the story in the national media.
- We have also spoken on numerous occasions at the UN Human Rights Council condemning the persecution of LGBT people globally.
- In 2018, we supported calls to reform the Gender Recognition Act which proposed to streamline the process of gaining legal recognition of a person’s acquired gender.
- We are proud to take part in Pride events and marches across the UK each year and to vocally celebrate the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia – which we helped to bring to the UK in 2005.
Our work to enhance children’s rights
Our work to enhance equality and human rights in general
Our other work includes campaigning for:
- an extension of section 6 of the Human Rights Act to treat religious organisations providing public services on behalf of the state as public authorities
- an end to the exemptions from the Equality Act for religious groups which allow much egregious discrimination on grounds of religion or belief and of sexual orientation to continue lawfully
- no weakening in the UK’s existing human rights settlement, for example as a result of proposals to replace the Human Rights Act 1998 with a ‘British Bill of Rights’, or pulling out of the European Convention on Human Rights
- the realisation of a single equality act in Northern Ireland, as is the case in the rest of the UK, as well as the proposed Northern Ireland ‘Bill of Rights’ to supplement the Human Rights Act
- incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into UK law
- Promoting socio-economic rights, for example through our programme Humanists for a Better World
- Defending the rule of law, not least by defending procedures for judicial review, through which many of our campaigns are prosecuted.
Get in touch if you feel that you have been discriminated against on the grounds of your beliefs, whether or not you believe that the discrimination is unlawful. We would like to hear about examples of discrimination in any context. Similarly, we would like to hear about situations where non-believers are ‘forced’ to take part in religious services of any kind, are expected to pray (or expected to be present where prayers are said), or where religious symbols are displayed in what should be civic, inclusive and secular places. If you have experienced harassment or been insulted because of your humanist beliefs or lack of religious beliefs, please let us know about that as well.
We can use the examples you provide in our campaigning work, for example in submissions to Government, either in the form of figures about the incidence of discrimination, or – but only with your permission – as a specific example of discrimination. If you have a story to tell, please also let us know if we have your permission to use your name.
You can also make the Equality and Human Rights Commission aware of any examples of discrimination in any context by calling their helpline.
You can also support Humanists UK’s campaigns by becoming a member. Campaigns cost money – quite a lot of money – and we need your financial support. Instead of or in addition, you can donate to Humanists UK.