Blog News

We write to Jeremy Corbyn on free speech


Labour Humanists’s Chair and Vice Chair have written to Jeremy Corbyn to raise the issue of freedom of speech. It is Labour Humanists’ position that freedom of thought and belief – including religious and non-religious beliefs – are human rights and the cornerstone of any free and democratic society and should be robustly defended. We’ve asked Jeremy to set out his and the party’s position in relation to free speech, freedom of belief and freedom of expression.

We know that there are many threats and pushbacks on freedom of expression, such as from religious groups and individuals opposing criticism of their beliefs. In addition to the growing voice from some religious groups to have their beliefs protected from critique, we worry about the effects of university ‘safe space’ policies in curtailing free speech when in such places that just should not happen.

Ahead of our annual meeting and AGM at Conference, we surveyed our members and supporters on the issues that they felt were most important. Faith schools and human rights, including freedom of expression, were the top responses. Certainly in looking at our programme of work for 2016, we will want to focus on freedom of expression and free speech, promoting those rights as vital for the Labour Party to defend.


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.


Labour’s equality statement to include non-religious people

We are pleased to announce that the recently-adopted equality statement of the Labour Party will now cover non-religious people (including atheists and humanists), having previously only referred to ‘religion’.

Last month Labour’s policy making body – the National Policy Forum (NPF) – agreed an overarching equality statement as a commitment to the way it will implement policies and its manifesto. However, the equality statement appeared not to cover non-religious people and therefore Labour Humanists took action to campaign for the statement to be amended as a matter of urgency.

While we supported the otherwise excellent statement, we made clear to representatives from all major groups in the Labour party that if the statement went ahead as it was written, it would create serious inequalities between religious and non-religious people and could have profound implications for the status of humanists and other non-religious people within and outside of Labour.

Our concern went to Labour’s Joint Policy Committee (JPC), the senior body which has strategic oversight of policy development in the party. JPC officers have agreed a change to the statement to replace ‘religion’ with the term ‘religion or belief’, which includes non-religious people. The revised wording will be published in the equality statement and will be available at, if not before, Labour’s annual conference in September.

We would like to thank Labour Party Chair and Labour Humanists’ Patron Angela Eagle MP for overseeing this process, and to the many members of the National Policy Forum who contacted us to support this important change.


The equality statement had stated ‘religion’ but omitted ‘or belief’. This went against the letter of the Equality Act 2010 and human rights law, which use the term ‘religion or belief’ to cover both non-religious and religious people. In practice, just using ‘religion’ specifically does not cover humanists or any other person with philosophical beliefs which are not religious.

The revised equality statement:

Labour is the Party of equality. We believe that no person should suffer discrimination or a lack of opportunity because of their gender, gender identity, age, disability, race, religion or belief, socio-economic status or sexual orientation. In government, every decision we take will be taken with that in mind. We will ensure the policies across these eight documents and in our manifesto will be implemented ensuring that they further rather than hinder this cause.

Labour has always led the fight for equality, but our fight is not yet won. We will not rest until everyone can live their lives free from hatred, fear and oppression. In government we will work to remove the structural and social barriers that stand in our way.

For further information contact Naomi Phillips, Chair of Labour Humanists.


Meeting with Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary

Earlier this week, represented by Tom Copley AM, we met with Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt. We were pleased to attend that meeting alongside the British Humanist Association (BHA) and the Accord Coalition, to speak about our shared vision for a high quality and inclusive education and schools system. We had a productive meeting and covered issues from religiously selective admissions in faith schools to the importance of a broad and balanced curriculum about religion and beliefs – including Humanism – in all state-funded schools. We look forward to working with the Labour education team as it sets out what the next Labour Government’s approach to education will be.

Read our submission to Labour on faith schools.

Blog News

Working for a more compassionate law on assisted dying

Assisted dying has been raised again as a major social, political and media story over the past few months, so we thought it would be helpful to set out our position as a group working for a more equal, ethical and secular Labour Party.

We want to see a more ethical and compassionate law on assisted dying in the UK that would protect the vulnerable but also allow mentally competent adults the right to die with dignity in a time and manner of their own choosing.

For people who are terminally ill or who are permanently and incurably suffering, who have made a clear decision, free from coercion, to end their lives and who are physically unable to do so themselves, we support a change in the law to legalise assisted dying and euthanasia.

We want to support Labour elected representatives working for a change in the law on assisted dying.

We agree with the British Humanist Association’s assessment of the current situation and its case for change:

Currently, the needs and autonomy of patients are often disregarded. Many people are in fact helped to die by doctors or nurses but without the safeguards that legislation would bring. Compassionate doctors, who follow the wishes of their terminally ill or incurably suffering patients by assisting them to die, risk being charged with assisting suicide or murder. The current system also results in close relatives being faced with the immensely difficult choices of whether, knowing that it is unlawful, to assist a loved one who is begging for help to put an end to their suffering or not to act and hence prolong their suffering.

We do not believe that anyone should be put into the position of having to make such choices, or indeed into a position where they believe that they have no other option but personally to end the life of someone they love. The few terminally ill and suffering people who are able to travel abroad to die often do so before it would be necessary if they did not need to be still able to travel.

Being able to die, with dignity, in a manner of our choosing must be understood to be a fundamental human right – a position supported by the landmark judgment in the Purdy case, where our highest court ruled that European Convention on Human Rights can be invoked in relation to the end of life.

Legalising assisted dying would ensure that strict legal safeguards are in place and empower people to make rational choices over their end of life care, free from coercion. The choice of an assisted death should not be instead of palliative care for terminally ill people, but a core part of comprehensive, patient-centred approaches to end of life care.

Time and again courts have said that a change in the law is a matter for parliament to enact – this is, necessarily, a political as well as moral issue. Despite strong public support for a change in the law, the majority of parliamentarians have so far been reluctant to support moves to legalise assisted dying.

However, there are many humanist and Labour MPs and Peers who do support a change to a more compassionate law. This year, we will brief on the ethical case for changing the law to allow assisted dying, with appropriate safeguards. We will support Labour elected representatives who seek to legalise assisted dying for terminally ill and permanently and incurably suffering people who wish to die with dignity in a manner of their choosing.




We write to Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary

We have written to Dr Tristram Hunt, Labour’s new Shadow Secretary of State for Education. In our letter to Dr Hunt we set out our position as relates to education and we also ask for a meeting.

We warmly welcomed Labour’s commitment to making Sex and Relationships Education compulsory in schools but urged that there should be no opt-out for faith schools.

We outlined our concerns about discrimination against, and unequal treatment of, teachers and teaching staff in state-funded faith schools.

We also took the opportunity to send Dr Hunt our submission to Labour’s policy review on faith school admissions, which we made jointly with Tom Copley, London Assembly Member.


House of Lords debates contribution of atheists and humanists to UK society

My Lords, today we speak up on behalf of the silent majority, for those of us who do not attend any place of worship, whether church, mosque or synagogue. It is a silent majority, whose full contribution to British society has perhaps been unsung for too long. In contrast, we find that religious voices are ever more present, and sometimes shrill, in the public square. However, because atheism is a philosophical viewpoint, arrived at individually and personally, we are not given to marching in the street chanting, “What do we want? Atheism! When do we want it? Now!”

– and so Labour’s Lord Harrison opened his debate on the contribution of atheists and humanists to United Kingdom society.

Peers from across the House of Lords joined the timely debate and Labour Peers in particular made strong contributions. The focus of the debate was the need for recognition of humanists in the public square, and on equality and human rights, on the importance of balanced education, on the dangers of religious sectarianism, on the rising numbers f non-religious in the UK population, and on the wide-ranging and valuable work of the British Humanist Association (BHA), to which Labour Humanists is affiliated. Here are some of the things that Labour Peers said:

Humanism is perhaps the default philosophical position for millions of people in the UK today, and millions of humanists in one way or another in their daily lives improve society by strengthening our democratic freedoms, involving themselves assiduously in charity work, increasing our body of scientific knowledge and enhancing the cultural and creative life of the United Kingdom – Lord Harrison

What I hope for is an understanding of the importance of ethics and morality that allows non-religious systems equal respect… I ask for an equal place in our counsels and advisory bodies, and, most of all, in the education of our children. It should be the primacy of an ethical framework in our public policy, not the primacy of religion, that matters – Baroness Whitaker

Secular morality is not anti-religious, it is areligious. Of course, the areligious increasingly are the majority of adults in our country – Lord Layard

We have just had riots on the streets of Belfast about—what?—religion. I come from the city of Glasgow, which is divided between two different Christian churches. If you look at the great movement for democracy throughout the Islamic world, what is stopping it from developing properly? It is religion and divisions within the Islamic faith – Lord Maxton

I shall not dwell on the growth of humanism or its many contributions to democracy and civil society—blasphemy laws, humanist weddings and other secular celebrations, educational equality and so on—nor shall I list prominent humanists and their wise or witty sayings. There are too many of them – Baroness Massey

One advantage of humanists is that not only do they not fight and kill each other in large numbers, they do not have problems about the roles of women and men, sexual identity, disability or any other similar thing. Trying to solve human problems by reason is the strength of humanism – Lord Soley

It is characteristic of humanism to believe in equality and goodwill between people, and therefore to be active in campaigns for human rights. It is gratifying to reflect on the improvements in women’s rights that have been made in this country during the past century. Many of the major religions—although by no means all—have opposed the campaigns that achieved these advances. Certain religions are still extraordinarily bad about women’s rights. In this country, we have an equality law. I would oppose any attempts to introduce Sharia law or practice, which is sometimes suggested. Our law is paramount. It is intended to protect women. I do not agree that culture or religion should prevent us from attempting to intervene – Baroness Turner

What is taking place in our society is generational replacement. Older, more religious generations are dying out and being replaced by generations without any religious beliefs. I hope that I can stick around long enough to see further progress. The data suggest that Governments and parliamentarians should be more cautious about listening to religious interests when changes in public policy are under consideration. We all know what these policy issues are because they are debated often enough in this House—abortion, assisted dying, embryo research, faith schools, employment law, and discrimination – Lord Warner, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group

More than 600 couples in England and Wales already choose to celebrate their marriage with a humanist ceremony, so I am delighted that, thanks to the amendment tabled by noble Lords and passed in this house, couples of the same and opposite sex will, in the not-too-distant future, be able to choose a humanist marriage – Baroness Royall

Read the British Humanist Association’s comment on the debate.

Read the full transcript of the debate.



Blog News

Some ideas for Labour’s policy review

Labour’s policy review provides a unique chance to influence Party policy. We are working on our formal responses to the review, all of which are aimed to help to create a more equal, ethical and secular Labour.

In brief, we would like Labour to consider the following policy options:

Faith schools
Labour’s policy towards schools should be inclusive and oppose discrimination:

  • No new faith school allowed to discriminate in its admissions
  • No existing faith school allowed to discriminate in admissions in the future
  • No faith school allowed to discriminate against teachers (including hiring, firing, and refusing promotion) on religious grounds


  • An end to compulsory collective worship in ALL schools.

Public services
Labour should take action to ensure public services are equal, inclusive, and protect and promote human rights.
All organisations,including religious groups working under public contract to provide public services must operate in an inclusive secular way. In practice that would mean:

  • No discrimination on religious or other grounds in employment
  • No discrimination on religious or other grounds against service users
  • No religious element part of the service, including prayers or proselytising

House of Lords Reform

Labour’s policy to have a 100% elected Lords would have meant in practice abolishing the Lords Spiritual. However Labour should have a clear and principled policy against religious privilege in our Parliament:

  • End the undemocratic ‘right’ for the Church of England to sit in our parliament
  • No reserved seats for an religious representatives
  • Allow Church of England bishops, and any other clergy or religious representatives, stand for election or be eligible for appointment to a reformed Lords but let that be on the same basis as everyone else
  • Promoting equality and campaigning against privilege in our democratic arrangements

We welcome your comments, thoughts, and submissions, about what you think should be Labour’s secularist and humanist policy priorities. Contact us with your suggestions.