Protect freedom of expression

Protect freedom of expression

Page 16 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

Academic hounded by Islamic society speaks out at NSS event

Academic hounded by Islamic society speaks out at NSS event

Posted: Mon, 3 Apr 2023 14:32

A professor who feared for his life after being accused of 'Islamophobia' has called for more free speech protections during a National Secular Society event.

Professor Steven Greer, an internationally-renowned human rights scholar, joined the NSS for a discussion on Islam and academic freedom on Thursday.

In 2020 the University of Bristol's Islamic Society launched complaints about the content of a human rights law module taught by Prof. Greer, which included discussion of the Charlie Hebdo shootings and the traditional death penalty for 'blasphemy' in Islam.

Although Prof. Greer was officially exonerated of all allegations after a five-month inquiry, the university cancelled the module.

During the talk, Prof. Greer said he feared Islamist attacks as a result of the accusations. The stress forced him to take time off sick for months, and he was left feeling betrayed by the university for failing to support him.

He also commented on wider issues of free speech at universities and wider society, including the recent incidents of death threats targeting a boy who allegedly scuffed a Quran at a school in Wakefield.

Now Research Director at the Oxford Institute for British Islam, Prof. Greer has published a book about his experiences, in the hope it will encourage others to take a stand for free inquiry and debate.

You can watch the discussion here:

NSS to host talk on Islam and academic freedom with Steven Greer

NSS to host talk on Islam and academic freedom with Steven Greer

Posted: Mon, 6 Mar 2023 15:03

The National Secular Society will hold a free discussion event with a professor who feared for his life after being falsely accused of 'Islamophobia'.

Professor Steven Greer, an internationally-renowned human rights scholar, will explain how false allegations that the module he taught at the University of Bristol was 'Islamophobic' left him feeling betrayed by the institution he expected to defend him.

In 2020 the university's Islamic Society launched complaints about the content of a human rights law module taught by Prof. Greer, which included discussion of the Charlie Hebdo shootings and the traditional death penalty for 'blasphemy' in Islam.

Although Prof. Greer was officially exonerated of all allegations after a five-month inquiry, the university cancelled the module.

Prof. Greer said he feared Islamist attacks as a result of the accusations. He took to disguising his appearance in public, while the stress forced him to take time off sick for months.

His case is by no means unique. Only last year, complaints against art history professor Erika Lopez Prater for showing historical depictions of Muhammad in class led to her dismissal from Hamline University in the USA.

Now Research Director at the Oxford Institute for British Islam, Prof. Greer has published a book about his experiences, in the hope it will encourage others to take a stand for free inquiry and debate.

In his online talk on 30th March, Prof. Greer will also comment on the wider issue of Islam and 'blasphemy' in the wake of several high-profile cases in recent years. These include death threats targeting a boy who allegedly scuffed a Quran at a school in Wakefield last week, a teacher forced into hiding for showing a picture of Muhammad in Batley, and several Birmingham primary schools facing protests in 2019 for teaching about LGBT equality.

NSS chief executive: "Urgent" that we explore how to protect freedom of speech and inquiry

NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: "The issue of Islam, free speech and academic freedom has reared its head again and again.

"As recent events have shown, not least the death threats against a boy in Wakefield for scuffing the Quran, it is urgent that we explore how we can protect these freedoms from the threat of Islamist intimidation.

"We're therefore grateful that Prof. Greer has agreed to speak about his experiences to help prevent others from going through a similar ordeal, and to safeguard freedom of expression and freedom of inquiry from religious censorship."

More information