Protect freedom of expression

Protect freedom of expression

Page 9 of 162: 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

UN resolution claims damaging holy books violates international law

UN resolution claims damaging holy books violates international law

Posted: Tue, 22 Aug 2023 11:15

UK efforts to introduce "more balanced language" were rejected

Report: ‘blasphemy’ backlash could lead to violence

Report: ‘blasphemy’ backlash could lead to violence

Posted: Tue, 25 Jul 2023 11:29

Religious backlash to 'blasphemy' could "inspire intimidation, violence and even mass killings" in the UK, a new report has warned.

The report, published by the Henry Jackson Society, cites recent examples of how extreme anti-blasphemy actions have led to death threats.

These include Kettlethorpe High School, where a student scuffed a Quran, and Batley Grammar School, where a teacher was forced into hiding after showing pupils cartoons of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

It also draws on the 2016 murder of Asad Shah in Glasgow by an Islamist extremist who sought to defend the "honour" of Muhammad.

Shah was a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, which believes that Muhammad was not the final prophet. This belief is considered blasphemous by many Muslims and in Pakistan it is a criminal offence for Ahmadis to refer to themselves as Muslims.

The report says a Pakistan-based religious movement known as Khatme Nubuwaat, which advocates capital punishment for Ahmadis, has been linked to extreme anti-blasphemy actions in the UK.

Extreme anti-blasphemy action deserves the same attention as "the likes of Al-Qaida and Isis", the report says, noting the 2015 attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine and the 2020 murder of Samuel Paty in France as examples of the most extreme outcomes.

It also remarks on a "subculture of competition" between certain Islamic sects to demonstrate the most zealous defence against perceived insults to Muhammad.

The report recommends an interdepartmental task force be set up to investigate anti-blasphemy actions at schools; local councillors receive dedicated training to respond to anti-blasphemy actions; and the Department for Education issue robust public statements that prioritise upholding free speech in response to anti-blasphemy actions.

It comes in the wake of the UN Human Rights Council passing a resolution to ban the burning of religious texts including the Koran.

Blasphemy laws have been repealed in England, Scotland and Wales but remain on the statute book in Northern Ireland.

NSS: "Concrete steps" needed to support schools and other institutions

NSS campaigns officer Alejandro Sanchez said: "This report lays bare the dangers associated with de facto blasphemy laws in the UK.

"Free speech is a fundamental human right which must not be undermined by fears of violence.

"The government must now take concrete steps to better support schools and other institutions accused of offending religious sensibilities."

Image: London/United Kingdom - October 30 2020: Muslim protesters stage an anti France demonstration outside French embassy in London. I T S, Shutterstock.

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