We work for an open and inclusive society with freedom of belief, speech, and expression. We believe that free speech and expression is an essential liberty without which societies can easily slide into a culture of oppression, suspicion and fear. Freedom of speech and expression has occupied an important part in humanist thinking for centuries and humanist organisations have always been active in campaigns for it.
We campaign both domestically and internationally for freedom of speech and expression and helped to found the End Blasphemy Laws campaign, which since its inception in 2015 has supported the repeal of blasphemy laws in seven countries.
Our work to uphold free speech and expression means we:
- Campaign to repeal blasphemy laws in Northern Ireland. Our sister charity Humanist Society Scotland is running an active campaign to see the blasphemy laws repealed there.
- support the work of the European Humanist Federation and Humanists International, who work on free speech issues globally, including on blasphemy laws, for example through the End Blasphemy Laws campaign
- monitor use of legal provisions against harassment and incitement on grounds of religion or belief in equality legislation which can lead to unwarranted free speech restrictions by the back door
- join calls to change UK libel laws to prevent victimisation of scientists, journalists, and human rights campaigners, as part of the Libel Reform Campaign
- work with others to make legislation less restrictive of valid expressions of free speech, such as liberalising the Public Order Act in relation to ‘insulting’ behaviour
- advocate reform of the advertising regulations and practices which lead bodies such as the Advertising Standards Authority and advisory bodies such as the Committee on Advertising Practice to chill free speech in the name of preventing ‘offence’ and cause commercial interests to do the same
- protect and secure the right of students to freely criticise religions and other ideas and beliefs without fear of punishment under Student Union or University policies
At the same time we support necessary restrictions on advertising that, for example, protect the public against actual harm from false claims. For example, we have taken action to refer anti-medical claims of evangelical churches to advertising regulators where they have done harm to people.
In 2014 we hosted the triennial World Humanist Congress in Oxford. At the Congress, the delegates approved the Oxford Declaration on Freedom of Thought and Expression, which, in summary, states that:
- The right to freedom of thought and belief is one and the same right for all.
- No one anywhere should ever be forced into or out of a belief.
- The right to freedom of expression is global in its scope.
- There is no right not to be offended, or not to hear contrary opinions.
- States must not restrict thought and expression merely to protect the government from criticism.
- Freedom of belief is absolute but the freedom to act on a belief is not.
Let us know of any attempts you hear of to use the law, or the threat of the law, to censor legitimate criticisms of religious or non-religious beliefs or practices.
You can support Humanists UK by becoming a member. That helps in itself, and you can help even more by supporting our campaigns in the ways suggested above. But campaigns also cost money – quite a lot of money – and we also need financial support. You can make a donation to Humanists UK.