Humanist Society campaign success as Government confirm the scrapping of blasphemy law

Humanist Society Scotland has reacted with delight that a five-year campaign by the charity has today seen confirmation that the outdated Scottish law on Blasphemy is to be repealed.

Fraser Sutherland

Reacting to the news from the Scottish Government, Fraser Sutherland, Chief Executive of Humanist Society Scotland, said:

“We are delighted that the Scottish Government is taking this important step. It is clear that the Cabinet Secretary has listened to the evidence and pleas from humanist campaigners and many others that blasphemy laws are incompatible with human rights. Even though Scotland’s law has not been used for some time the message this repeal sends to other leaders around the world is clear and unambiguous – blasphemy laws are wrong and have no place in the twenty-first century. Scotland now joins a growing list of countries who have taken this step to put pressure on other states around the world who continue to prosecute blasphemy charges.

“This is a really important and welcome move in the global campaign to rid the world of unfair and unjust blasphemy laws that persecute individuals both religious and non-religious around the world. I want to thank our members and supporters who have been writing to politicians, lodging petitions and generally supporting the work of the society which has seen our campaign result in this success.”

How Humanist Society Scotland’s End Blasphemy Law Campaign was won:

2015 – The International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws is launched, with Humanist Society Scotland a founding partner.

February 2016 – Religion 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 calls on the Scottish Government to show ‘moral leadership’ and scrap Scotland’s Blasphemy law in light of Humanists International’s 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August 2017 – Humanist Society Scotland gathers public support through a petition calling on politicians to scrap the outdated laws.

September 2017 – Humanist Society Scotland submits 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 agrees to write to the Scottish Government to ask them to consider scrapping the law.

December 2018 – Humanist Society Scotland implores 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 spot where student Thomas Aikenhead was hanged for blasphemy in Edinburgh 321 years previously.

March 2018 – UN 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 the need to end Scotland’s Blasphemy law.

October 2018 Ireland votes in a referendum to scrap Blasphemy law after Humanist Society Scotland distinguished supporter Stephen Fry is investigated by police for comments he made on a TV show.

November 2018 – Scottish Government launch consultation on reforming Hate Crime laws which fails to propose to scrap Scotland’s Blasphemy law as suggested by campaigners. Humanist Society Scotland calls the failure to act a ‘stain on Scotland’s Human Rights record’.

December 2018Canada repeals its Blasphemy law.

February 2019 – Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye and Have I Got News For You panellist, and Nick Newman, scriptwriter and cartoonist add their support to the Humanist Society campaign while touring a play they had written to Scotland.

March 2019 – The Church of Scotland add their support to the scrapping of Scotland’s Blasphemy law.

March 2019New Zealand becomes the seventh country since 2015 to scrap its Blasphemy law.

April 2020 – Scottish Government confirm the Hate Crime bill will scrap Scotland’s Blasphemy law.

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