Protect freedom of expression

Protect freedom of expression

Page 21 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

NSS: Poland must repeal ‘blasphemy law’ after pop star vindicated

NSS: Poland must repeal ‘blasphemy law’ after pop star vindicated

Posted: Fri, 16 Sep 2022 14:58

The National Secular Society has urged Poland to repeal its 'blasphemy law' after an international court ruled a pop star's human rights were breached.

Yesterday the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled the Polish government violated the right to free speech by convicting and fining Dorota Rabczewska (pictured), known by the stage name 'Doda', for 'insulting Christianity' in an interview.

The court ordered Poland to pay Doda a settlement of 10,000 euros (£8,680).

In 2009, Doda said during an interview for a news website that while she believes in a "higher power", she does not believe in the Bible.

She said she was more convinced by scientific discoveries like the existence of dinosaurs, and not by "the writings of someone wasted from drinking wine and smoking some weed".

The interview prompted complaints from two individuals to a public prosecutor that she had broken Article 196 of Poland's criminal code. This prohibits offending "religious feelings" by "publicly insulting an object of religious worship".

Article 196: Poland's 'blasphemy law'

Doda was convicted in 2012 by the Warsaw District Court and fined the equivalent of approximately £930.

A subsequent complaint to Poland's Constitutional Court that Article 196 violates the constitutional rights to freedom of expression and equal treatment of the nonreligious was dismissed.

Doda took the case to the ECtHR in Strasbourg in 2013, arguing that Poland had breached Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of expression.

She added that the sanction imposed on her – a criminal conviction and a fine fifty times the minimum provided by law – had been disproportionately severe. She was supported by UK-based human rights group Article 19.

The Polish government argued Doda "could easily have known that her statement could lead to prosecution as 90% of the population in Poland was Catholic" and that religious people "had a right not to be insulted on the grounds of their beliefs".

The government was backed by Ordo Iuris, an ultraconservative Polish Catholic lobby group, which made a third-party submission against Doda.

ECtHR: Religious 'cannot expect to be exempt from criticism'

The ECtHR found that Doda's conviction had violated Article 10.

It said freedom of expression "constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society and one of the basic conditions for its progress and for each individual's self-fulfilment".

It said those who choose to exercise their religious freedom cannot "expect to be exempt from criticism" and "must tolerate and accept the denial by others of their religious beliefs and even the propagation by others of doctrines hostile to their faith".

The court noted that Article 196 of Poland's criminal code "incriminates all behaviour that is likely to hurt religious feelings".

One of the seven judges dissented from the ruling. Polish national Judge Wojtyczek argued "freedom from insults affecting the religious feelings of the believers" is an "important element" of freedom of religion and conscience.

Poland has recently experienced a rise of Catholic nationalism under the traditionalist Law and Justice party, contributing to its near total ban on abortion last year.

On Saturday Poland's Minister of Education and Science Przemysław Czarnek said: "Poland will either be Christian or it will not exist".

NSS: 'Religious feelings cannot trump free speech'

NSS head of campaigns Megan Manson said: "We welcome the ruling, which clarify that religious feelings cannot trump the fundamental human right to freedom of expression.

"Doda should never have been convicted in the first place. Poland must now respond to the court's findings by repealing Article 196 of its criminal code, which is nothing more than a blasphemy law in practice.

"Blasphemy laws, whatever their guise, are an affront to human rights and human dignity. They have no place in any democracy."

Image: Fryta 73, CC BY-SA 2.0 (cropped to fit)

NSS defends free speech at ‘Stand with Salman’ event

NSS defends free speech at ‘Stand with Salman’ event

Posted: Thu, 1 Sep 2022 13:02

The National Secular Society has reiterated its commitment to free speech at an event to show solidarity with author Salman Rushdie.

NSS campaigns officer Alejandro Sanchez (pictured) joined other free speech campaigners at 'Stand with Salman', which was held in London last week following the recent attack on Rushdie.

Rushdie was stabbed on stage while giving a talk on free speech in the US last month by a man who accused him of 'attacking Islam'.

Rushdie has faced attempts against his life after Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1989 ordering Rushdie's execution following the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses, which some Muslims consider blasphemous.

At the event, which was subject to heavy police presence, Alejandro read NSS chief executive Stephen Evans' official response to the attack.

Other speakers included Toby Young of the Free Speech Union and anti-extremism academic Wasiq Wasiq.

Alejandro's reading called for the end of the "stealth blasphemy code" and "climate of self-censorship" that have developed. Just last year, a teacher was forced into hiding for using images of Muhammad in class, while this year a film was pulled from cinemas following religious protests.

The reading urged politicians to take an uncompromising stance on free speech and for citizens of all faiths and beliefs to stand together to oppose religious censorship: "Salman Rushdie once said that the writer's great weapon is the truth and integrity of their voice. The best way to show solidarity with him is by never allowing that voice to be silenced."

You can watch the video of Alejandro's reading here:

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