End Blasphemy Law campaign at Scottish Parliament

June 4, 2018

A joint call by Humanist Society Scotland and the International Humanist and Ethical Union was made at the Scottish Parliament to scrap Scotland’s outdated Blasphemy law.

MSPs heard from campaigners from around the world including Gulalai Ismail from Pakistan who herself was threatened with a Blasphemy charge for campaigning for women’s rights. Gulalai is a previous winner of the International Humanist of the Year award in 2014 and the Fondation Chirac Peace Prize in 2016 for her work promoting peace in Pakistan.

Gulalai Ismail at the Scottish Parliament, holding a sign bearing Humanist Society Scotland campaign text 'End Blasphemy Laws Now'
Gulalai Ismail

Gulalai told MSPs of the egregious injustice of the use of Blasphemy laws against atheists, freethinkers and people from religious minorities. She also highlighted how Blasphemy laws are often used to silence Human Rights defenders in countries around the world.

Gordon MacRae, Chief Executive of Humanist Society Scotland, highlighted the work that the Society had carried out in this area and stated members frustration that Scotland lagged behind the rest of the UK and other European nations in scrapping Blasphemy laws. MacRae said after the event:

Gordon MacRae

The consensus is forming, and we would like to see Parliamentary time made available soon to correct this historical anomaly.

It’s not often the case that Scotland lags behind England in progressive law reform. The impacts are sadly felt harshly in other countries where Scotland’s Blasphemy law is a footnote to their own controls.

Gordon MacRae, Humanist Society Scotland

Gary McLelland, Chief Executive of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, also addressed parliamentarians with a plea for the Scottish Parliament to take moral leadership and set an international precedent:

Gary McLelland

Scotland is among one of the most progressively minded nations in the world, and one of only a handful to afford humanists equal treatment in the provision of services.

There is no sense that Scotland’s blasphemy law is a serious risk to freedom of thought or expression here.

However, for two reasons Scotland must now make it a political priority to scrap its blasphemy law. Firstly, the existence of the law in Scotland, and other progressive European Nations, is used as a justification by states who actively persecute, or turn a blind eye to the persecution of, our humanist and atheist colleagues.

Secondly; Scotland has a great chance here to show positive moral leadership for the rest of the world. This blasphemy law is an embarrassment to progressively minded people everywhere, it’s time to get rid of it, and get rid of it now!

Gary McLelland, International Humanist and Ethical Union

The event also heard from SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson, who supported the call and committed to raising the issue with Scottish Government ministers and taking forward the issue within Parliament.

Kenneth Gibson MSP
Kenneth Gibson MSP

Other MSPs to publicly back our campaign during the course of the week include Patrick Harvie MSP, Ben McPherson MSP, Claire Baker MSP, Bill Kidd MSP and Ivan McKee MSP.

You can add your support to the Humanist Society Scotland campaign by signing our petition to scrap Scotland’s Blasphemy law.

Humanist Society Scotland End Blasphemy Law Campaign Timeline

February 2016Religion in Scots Law report by academics at University of Glasgow, funded by Humanist Society Scotland, reveals the legal detail and history of the Scottish common law offence of Blasphemy

December 2016 – Humanist Society Scotland call on the Scottish Government to show ‘moral leadership’ and scrap Scotland’s Blasphemy law in light of IHEU’s international report on persecution of Humanists around the world through Blasphemy laws

July 2017 – The Scottish Government’s Justice Secretary responds to correspondence from a Humanist Society Scotland member saying they have “no plans” to scrap the law.

August 2017 – Humanist Society Scotland gather public support through a petition calling on politicians to scrap the outdated laws.

September 2017 – Humanist Society Scotland submit evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee of how Blasphemy laws are used around the world to persecute Humanists and minority faith groups. The Committee agree to write to the Scottish Government to ask them to consider scrapping the law.

December 2018 – Humanist Society Scotland implore MSPs to scrap Scotland’s Blasphemy law at the annual Humanist Yuletide event in the Scottish Parliament.

January 2018 – The Edinburgh Group of Humanist Society Scotland arrange a protest against Blasphemy laws around the world on the sport where student Thomas Aikenhead was hanged for blasphemy in Edinburgh 321 years previously.

March 2018UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of Religion and Belief calls for the scrapping of blasphemy laws and states they are not compatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed by the UK in 1968.

March 2018 – Scrapping Scotland’s Blasphemy Law becomes official SNP party policy. 

May 2018 – Scottish Parliament hears from Humanist campaigners on need to end Scotland’s Blasphemy law.

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