Protect freedom of expression

Protect freedom of expression

Page 15 of 164: We promote free speech as a positive value.

Democracy cannot exist without the right to free speech.

Free speech should be robustly defended as a fundamental freedom.

The National Secular Society has defended free speech from religious threats since our founding. We played an instrumental role in abolishing "blasphemy" laws in Britain, but serious concerns remain. Blasphemy laws still exist in Northern Ireland. And throughout the UK, religious fundamentalists seek to impose their blasphemy taboos on others through violence and intimidation.

There are also increasing attempts to categorise offending religious sensibilities as 'hate speech', making criticism, mockery or perceived 'insult' of religion a criminal act akin to racial hatred or inciting violence – in other words, a 'blasphemy law by the back door'.

Without free speech no search for truth is possible; without free speech no discovery of truth is useful; without free speech progress is checked… Better a thousand fold abuse of free speech than denial of free speech.

NSS founder Charles Bradlaugh

We are further concerned by a developing 'culture of offence' in which any speech or action deemed likely to offend religious sensibilities is considered taboo. Enforced by a toxic mix of terrorism and religious deference, this is chilling free speech through self-censorship.

We also campaign against blasphemy laws around the world, where they continue to be used to target religious and political minorities. These are sometimes described by UK politicians as 'misuse' of blasphemy laws, but we contend there are never any legitimate uses for blasphemy laws.

Being offended from time to time is the price we all pay for living in a free society. Rather than trying to silence those we disagree with, we believe the answer to speech we don't like is more speech – better speech.

We therefore campaign to protect and preserve freedom of expression, including offensive, critical and shocking speech.

What you can do

1. Share your story

Tell us why you support this campaign, and how you are personally affected by the issue. You can also let us know if you would like assistance with a particular issue.

2. Join us

Become a member of the National Secular Society today! Together, we can separate religion and state for greater freedom and fairness.

Latest updates

Regulators halt advert plans following NSS censorship concerns

Regulators halt advert plans following NSS censorship concerns

Posted: Fri, 14 Apr 2023 10:49

Regulators have abandoned proposed new rules for advertising after the National Secular Society warned they may result in greater religious censorship.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP), which are responsible for writing advertising regulation guidelines, have this month announced they will not adopt stricter guidelines around protected characteristics defined by equality law.

The proposals, announced in 2021, said marketers and broadcasters "must have particular regard to the likelihood of causing harm" to people with protected characteristics including "religion or belief".

The NSS said the rules could "inadvertently have a detrimental effect on the public – including on the basis of their protected characteristics" in response to a consultation on the proposals.

The consultation document did not define "harm", saying it "is a commonly understood term".

The NSS said this meant a religious person could argue they were 'harmed' by an advert that offended their beliefs. This could lead to censorship of depictions of people representing other protected characteristics.

It cited past examples of such censorship, including an advert for Antonio Federici ice cream banned by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), the regulator which enforces the CAP code, in 2010.

The advert (pictured) showed two priests who appeared to be on the verge of kissing, which ASA said was potentially "offensive to Catholics". The NSS warned such censorship fuels "homophobic social narratives that there is something inherently offensive, shameful and immoral about being gay".

The NSS recommended that CAP and BCAP "re-consider the necessity of these additional rules" and "provide greater clarity" as to what is meant by 'harm'.

In a statement on the outcome of their consultation, CAP and BCAP said that having "carefully reviewed" the responses to the consultation, they concluded that their codes' existing rules on social responsibility and harm "are adequate in protecting against or reducing the likelihood of harm arising from advertising and other marketing communications".

They added that they will "continue to introduce specific, detailed guidance on preventing harm to particular groups sharing one or more of the protected characteristics in response to robust evidence of real-world harm to those groups being caused by advertising".

NSS: Censorship "can stigmatise and harm" the very people who need protection

NSS head of campaigns Megan Manson said: "We welcome CAP and BCAP's decision to abandon the proposed rules which, while well-intended, risked greater censorship of material that may offend religious beliefs.

"This in turn can stigmatise and harm the very people that CAP and BCAP seek to protect.

"We are grateful to CAP and BCAP for taking our concerns seriously and concluding that their existing comprehensive rules are adequate to ensure people are, rightly, protected from harm."

Last person executed for blasphemy honoured in France

Last person executed for blasphemy honoured in France

Posted: Thu, 13 Apr 2023 10:17

A statue of François-Jean de la Barre, the last person executed for blasphemy in France, has been symbolically erected in front of the Basilica of Sacré Coeur in Montmartre, Paris.

François-Jean de la Barre, also known as the Chevalier de La Barre, was executed at the age of 19 in 1766 for failing to doff his hat in front of a religious procession.

He was tortured, beheaded and burnt with a copy of Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary nailed to his torso.

The first statue of La Barre was erected in 1897 in front of the Sacré Coeur but was removed under pressure from Catholic Church. It was melted down by the Nazis to make cannons.

The unveiling ceremony for the new statue (pictured) was part of a two-day international conference on secularism in Paris organised by La Fédération nationale de la libre pensée.

National Secular Society president Keith Porteous Wood and chief executive Stephen Evans both spoke at the conference. Keith discussed recent campaigning to hold religious institutions to account for child abuse.

Stephen gave an overview of the situation in the United Kingdom, where the Church of England is established by law. Its bishops sit as of right in the legislature, the head of state is 'Defender of the faith', and worship is mandated in state schools.

The diverse arrangements of church and state in different countries were discussed by speakers from a range of countries, including France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain and the United States.

Many speakers highlighted the unjust privileges stemming from concordats: agreements or treaties between the Vatican and a secular government.

Delegates committed to act in their respective countries to achieve the effective separation of religion and state, to promote freedom of conscience for all, and for the abolition of all concordats and blasphemy laws.

NSS chief executive: "A reminder of the importance of defending liberal principles and challenging religious privileges"

Speaking after the conference, NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: "Both globally and at home institutionalised and fundamentalist religion remains a serious threat to freedom of belief, expression and choice.

"This conference served as a reminder of the importance of defending liberal principles and challenging religious privileges to ensure the flourishing of human rights for all.

"I thank Libre Pensée for putting together such a stimulating event and memorable commemoration of Chevalier de La Barre, which serves not only as a reflection on past horrors, but also a commitment to the future of free expression."

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