End Blasphemy Laws – we give our support

A new campaign has been launched to end blasphemy laws across the world. The campaign is led by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and the European Humanist Federation (EHF), and is supported by the British Humanist Association (BHA), to which we are affiliated.

The BHA states that the campaign ‘will put pressure on states to repeal laws which restrict or punish speech which is deemed to commit ‘blasphemy’ or ‘religious insult’. Blasphemy laws were repealed in England and Wales in 2008 following years of campaigning from the BHA and other organisations. However, many countries, including an alarming number of EU member states, continue to silence and punish criticism of religion in the name of blasphemy laws. IHEU’s 2014 Freedom of Thought Report found that 55 countries had criminal laws restricting blasphemy. In 39 countries, it is an imprisonable offence. In six countries, it has the death penalty.’

Last year we submitted a paper to Labour’s policy review, which urged Labour to champion the human rights of freedom of thought and belief – including religious and non-religious beliefs – and of free expression. We see those rights as cornerstones of any free and democratic society, and we asked that the party defend them robustly at home and internationally, including through opposing blasphemy laws.

It is encouraging that Labour has recently set out that it will ‘Lead by example on human rights, upholding them domestically through the Human Rights Act, and advocating them overseas’. We will want this to include work with humanist organisations here and internationally to repeal existing blasphemy laws and vehemently oppose any new such laws being created.

We will keep working to raise this issue within Labour and aim for it to be prominent in the Party’s human rights work.

Find out more about the End Blasphemy Laws campaign.

Join us, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook.


Labour pledge to legalise humanist marriages as Government blocks proposals, disappointing thousands of couples

News item from the British Humanist Association (BHA):

Labour pledge to legalise humanist marriages as Government blocks proposals, disappointing thousands of couples

The Labour Party has pledged to give legal recognition to humanist marriages if returned to power next year. The announcement was made as the Governmentpublished its report which denies legal recognition, in defiance of both Liberal Democrat party policy for reform and a public consultation which – it was today revealed – showed over 90% of the public to be in favour. Earlier this week it was revealed by the Sunday Times that Number 10 was blocking the proposals for purely political reasons, citing it as a ‘fringe issue’ that would distract from Conservative electioneering.

The government report published today goes against a public consultation which elicited overwhelming support for the legal recognition, and has rejected the proposal rehashing spurious reasons which were dealt with last year when amendments were debated in the Lords and Commons last year during the passage of the Marriage Act.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘It’s remarkable that the Government would go to such extraordinary lengths to stop two people expressing their love and contracting their marriage in the way they choose. Couples of every religion from Sikhs to scientologists, from Anglicans to Jews, from Quakers to Mormons, have the right to have a legal marriage according to their deepest beliefs. Even the Aetherius Society, which believes that there are aliens on the moon, is able to conduct legal marriages. What priests and politicians have against humanists enjoying the same right is baffling.

‘Every single objection – the few that there were – was answered in both Parliament and in the public consultation on this issue – the same objections which are cited in the report published today. The overwhelming majority of respondents to the public consultation, a majority of the British people’s elected representatives, and the majority of people in England and Wales will all unite in opposing this shameful government decision. The many thousands of couples denied the marriage of their choice will feel it all the more.

‘Today is a very sad day for fairness, freedom of belief, and freedom of choice. However we are delighted that the Labour party and others have made such a strong commitment to legalise humanist marriage next year if in power and the thousands of couples who responded to the consultation and wrote to their own MPs will also be heartened by this news.

‘Every ostensible argument given by the Government today was either comprehensively demolished in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, or confirmed as irrelevant by civil servants or ministers we met with since. As we know from the leak to the Sunday Times last week, this populat measure has been blocked for purely political reasons.’

Labour Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities Baroness (Glenys) Thornton said, ‘There was widespread support for humanist marriage across Parliament during the passage of Equal Marriage and across the country. Humanist marriages have been legally recognised in Scotland for ten years now and the sky hasn’t fallen in, in fact more people are getting married. This is yet another example of the Lib Dems saying they support something and then doing the opposite – despite having the Minister responsible in Government.

‘The Labour Party supports the legal recognition of humanist marriages and a Labour Government will act to support the thousands of couples who wish to marry with a humanist celebration.’

Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrat Equalities Minister, said: ‘Liberal Democrats firmly believe couples should be able to celebrate their marriage in the way they want to, and that should include humanist celebrations. We have made this case in government and will continue to back full legal recognition of humanist marriages in the next Parliament.’

Natalie Bennett, the Green Party leader, said: ‘Clearly the law should allow those who wish to have a humanist marriage ceremony the same rights as couples who want a religious ceremony with a celebrant of their choice. The Green Party is committed to ending the current discrimination through legislation as soon as possible.’

Robin Crosse, planning on getting married next year, commented, ‘We were hoping to have a humanist marriage in next year, but now we will have to rethink our plans. I don’t understand why a government that says it wants to support marriage would do something like this.’

Speaking earlier this week, Tamsin Lancashire-Ball, 31, a teacher, and her husband, Darren, 37, a graphic designer, who had a humanist wedding last year gave their support for reform, saying, ‘We felt it would be quite hypocritical [to have a church wedding] when it’s not really what we believe in. Making a strong promise to something we don’t believe in is not a good way to start a marriage.’

Sam Whitney, 31, a consultant technician at a garage, also planning on marrying next summer, said: ‘While register office weddings serve their purpose and might be suitable for some people, I don’t feel that we could make it personal to us. We would like a wedding that reflects our beliefs and what we stand for. Surely the day that binds us together should be a celebration of everything that we share as a couple?’


For further comment or information, please contact BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal on or 0773 843 5059.


A motion has been tabled in the House of Commons calling on the Government to proceed swiftly to giving legal recognition within this Parliament. It has already been signed by MPs from Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Green, Conservative, and even the SNP, making a rare venture into English and Welsh matters. Following over 2000 letters being sent from constituents, many more MPs have been lobbying Government directly to urge them to act now.

This follows a debate in the House of Lords in which peers from the Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Labour benches, as well as crossbenchers, also called on Government to get regulations through before the election. Peers urging this included Baroness Butler-Sloss, former Lord Justice of Appeals, who lambasted the Government’s slow response to this issue in the House of Lords and said, “I cannot for one moment understand why we are not just getting on with it.”

Other Peers expressing their support included Lord Harrison and Baroness Meacher, who highlighted how humanist marriage would merely extend the existing legal provisions awarded to Jewish and Quaker weddings to non-religious groups like the British Humanist Association, and Lord Garel-Jones who reiterated “that there is now overwhelming evidence that humanist marriages fulfil the Government’s new families test and that they support strong and stable marriages.” From the Opposition front bench Baroness Thornton noted the “overwhelming support” humanist marriage had in both Houses of Parliament when the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 passed, and that Ministers assured us humanist marriage could be introduced well before the next election.


Blog News

Government set to U-turn on equal humanist marriage

We’ve been campaigning for the legal recognition of humanist marriage in England and Wales – something that is already available and increasingly popular in Scotland. Currently, humanist weddings in England and Wales have no legal force of their own, and couples are required to pay a visit to the registry office to make their marriages official. We proudly support the British Humanist Association’s (BHA) long-standing campaign for non-religious people to have the choice of a legal marriage ceremony which reflects their beliefs, just as many religious people do.

Over the past couple of years we have worked to increase awareness of the issue within Labour and to support Labour parliamentarians in their efforts to ensure legislation is passed. In fact, we have been delighted that it has been the Labour front bench in parliament which has spearheaded recent attempts to legalise humanist marriage. Many Labour MPs have also signed a motion supporting humanist marriage.

In July, we welcomed the Government’s agreement to set in motion moves which would see humanist marriages be made lawful in England and Wales, before the General Election.

It is hugely disappointing that the Tory-led Government now appears to have U-turned on that agreement, as Number 10 is reported to be blocking the legal recognition of humanist marriage.

Our asks of Labour

We believe there is everything still to fight for – that the Government could still be convinced to make time for this important legislation in this parliament. While Labour has shown good support so far, it has done so along with colleagues from across parties, with religious and non-religious people. Legalising humanist marriage in England and Wales is not a party political issue.

  1. It’s really important for Labour now to make clear that it will give the Government the time to get the regulations through this side of the election, should it decide to do so.
  2. We would also like Labour publicly to state its commitment to equal humanist marriage – and that it would legalise it should it get the chance after the General Election if the present Government really does go back on its agreement.


Read the BHA’s statement ‘Number 10 intervenes to block humanist marriages‘.

Read more about the broad support for humanist marriage.


Tory-led Government deleting atheism from schools in England

New Government advice for schools on British values has actually taken out references to non-religious beliefs that appeared in previous versions.

Legally, schools are required to promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.’ In 2013, the Department for Education (DfE) published advice stating that, ‘There are many different actions that schools can take to meet this part of the standard, such as: …Use teaching resources from a wide variety of sources to help pupils understand a range of faiths, and beliefs such as atheism and humanism.’However, in updated advice on meeting this same standard, the DfE has removed ‘and beliefs such as atheism and humanism’ from the preceding sentence.

This retrograde step follows closely after a number of academics, teachers, and parents, together with the British Humanist Association (BHA) and the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC), condemned the exclusion of study of the non-religious worldview of humanism from new English GCSE and AS and A level criteria published by the Government.

The Government’s motive for the active exclusion of the study, or mention, of non-religious perspectives from schools is not clear. We have deep concerns about this clear inequality and the negative impact on education and social tolerance these moves may have. We have commented previously about the current Government’s agenda to promote religious faith and the anti-secularist and -atheist remarks made by prominent Tory MPs.

We’d like Labour’s education team to tackle this head on and demand that the DfE revise its advice on British values to include references to atheism and humanism again, and to ensure the study of non-religious worldviews is equal to that of religious beliefs.

We are an increasingly diverse and increasingly non-religious population and that is particularly true of younger generations. It makes no sense for the Government to ignore that reality and keep using state education to promote religion.

For more information, see the BHA’s news page.


Ofsted should be allowed to inspect religious teaching in state faith schools

Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary has set out his concerns that ‘Ofsted is not allowed to inspect religious teaching in faith schools‘. The issue of faith schools essentially inspecting themselves when it comes to the content of their religious teaching was discussed when Labour Humanists met with Tristram Hunt MP earlier this year, and this public statement from Dr Hunt is very welcome. What we would like to see is a firm policy proposal from Labour to ensure that religious teaching in faith schools is opened up to the same scrutiny and inspection as all other state schools.

You can listen to the full discussion between Dr Hunt and David Aaronovitch, which was a Progress event on October 28. They discuss various issues relating to faith schools from 21 – 28 minutes.

What’s the issue with RE in faith schools?

There are a number of concerns about what and how RE is taught in state-funded faith schools. The British Humanist Association’s (BHA) education campaigner Richy Thompson blog ‘10 facts about faith schools‘ sets these out. These include:

  • Most don’t have to teach about other religions in Religious Education
  • When they do teach about other religions, they often don’t teach about them properly
  • They don’t have to teach about non-religious people and beliefs
  • Their RE teaching isn’t even inspected by Ofsted. The religious bodies inspect it themselves
  • ‘Faith’ schools do not have to provide much in the way of sex education and can choose to only teach abstinence until marriage

Help the BHA keep campaigning for reform of faith schools.

Blog News

Fight back against faith schools

Please show your support for inclusive schools by donating whatever you can in support of the British Humanist Association’s (BHA) Faith Schools Campaigner. Each year the BHA, which is a charity reliant on donations and membership fees, fundraises to retain its fantastic Faith Schools Campaigner, who is the only campaigner working full time in opposition to the state funding of faith schools and against religious discrimination in admissions, employment and the curriculum.

Richy Thompson works tirelessly to end the unfair discrimination embedded in the state-funded faith schools system and has helped to make the issue of faith schools a matter of national level debate, as well as providing direct support and advice to parents, teachers, school governors and pupils in local areas. On top of all this, Richy also leads the BHA’s policy work on evolution and creationism, religious education, PSHE and sex and relationships education and collective worship – with a number of notable successes in the past few years.

There is still so much more to be done to have a truly fair, equal and high quality school and education system with no religious discrimination or prejudice. Please donate through the special JustGiving site.

Read more about the BHA’s work on schools and education.

Events News Uncategorized

‘No Prayer Breakfast’ a secular success at Conference!

We were delighted to hold another successful ‘No Prayer Breakfast’ fringe meeting at Labour Party Annual Conference on 23 September 2014. The event was described by Kelvin Hopkins MP as being his conference highlight when we hold them, and the atmosphere was certainly very positive, especially for 8am!

We worked closely with the British Humanist Association (BHA), to which we are affiliated, to put together the biggest panel of prominent speakers we’ve had so far. Chaired by Naomi Phillips, we heard from:

  • Angela Eagle MP, Chair of the Labour Party and Labour Humanists’ Patron
  • Andrew Copson, BHA Chief Executive
  • Owen Jones, author, commentator and Chavs author
  • Polly Toynbee, author and journalist
  • Kelvin Hopkins MP, Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group
  • Sunny Hundal, journalist and blogger
  • Tom Copley, Member of the London Assembly

Read what happened on our Storify of the event. You can also read the BHA’s report of their activities at all the Party conferences.

Panel at Labour Conference
(LtoR) Sunny Hundal, Naomi Phillips, Polly Toynbee, Angela Eagle, Tom Copley, Andrew Copson, Kelvin Hopkins (Owen Jones had to leave before this photo was taken!)





Events News Uncategorized

Report from AGM 2014

Labour Humanists held our AGM 2014 at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester on Tuesday 23rd September. Read the Chair’s report and minutes, and the Treasurer’s report.


Blog Events News

Labour Humanists’ Chair makes speech to party conference

Very pleased to see Labour’s commitment to education, to a stronger school admissions code, to supporting teachers, to compulsory SRE in every state school.

My constituency party Chipping Barnet supports inclusive schools and the best teachers free to teach in any state school.

That is why Labour needs to go further and address the issue of state-funded faith schools. A third of state schools have a religious character and that number is growing through the Tories’ largely unregulated and growing academies and free schools programme.

Many state funded faith schools can and do select pupils on the basis of the religion of their parents. Labour should strengthen its position to make clear that whether someone believes in god or not, or which god they believe in, should have no bearing on whether their child can access a high quality education at their local school.

Those schools can and do put religious requirements on teaching jobs too. Allowing state funded schools to hire, fire, or set a ceiling on promotion for, suitably qualified teachers on religious grounds, must be at odds to Labour’s commitments to equality and to improving teacher quality.

Where I live, all new primary schools just opened or proposed are religious ones- Jewish and Christian. In 5 years time my daughter will be starting school. As a non-religious person who absolutely shares Labour values of equality and for inclusive high quality education, in 5 years time where should I send my daughter, when my local schools are faith schools, not inclusive, and have religious indoctrination as part of the ethos and curriculum?

Conference, let there be no doubt – our education system is only safe with Labour. Only Labour truly supports teachers. Only Labour fights for every young person to reach their educational potential regardless of their background. That is why I am a member.

And that is why Labour should not ignore or play down the threat to our values of equality and inclusion.
Labour must continue to fight for the right to every young person to have a high quality education at their local school
And we should have a national review of religion in education, ensuring the teaching of non-religious world views such as Humanism equally alongside religious perspectives.
We must look to strengthen out policy and rule out any state funded school from discriminating, selecting and segregating along religious grounds.

Events News

No Prayer Breakfast & AGM 2014

No Prayer Breakfast Poster


Followed by Labour Humanists’ AGM. If you are not already a member, please consider joining us.