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

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."

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:

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