Scottish “blasphemy” law repealed following humanist campaign

  • post Type / Campaigns
  • Date / 12 March 2021

On 11 March 2021, members of Scottish Parliament voted to pass the Hate Crimes and Public Order (Scotland) Act, which, among other things, repeals Scotland’s common law offense of “blasphemy”.

Humanist Society Scotland – a member organization of Humanists International and coalition partner of the End Blasphemy Laws Campaign – has been in the forefront of the campaign to repeal Scotland’s blasphemy law.

Fraser Sutherland, Chief Executive of Humanist Society Scotland

Fraser Sutherland, Chief Executive of Humanist Society Scotland commented:

“The importance of the passage of the Act, and with it the repeal of Scotland’s common law offence of blasphemy, will resonate with humanists both in Scotland and around the world. This has been a long standing campaign of the Society and part of a global effort to rid the world of blasphemy laws in every country, and we work very closely with our humanist compatriots across the world to achieve this. Let us not forget our current humanist of the year – Mubarak Bala (the president of the Nigerian Humanists) – has been arbitrarily detained for over 300 days under accusations of ‘blasphemy‘ relating to a social media post. The fight goes on.”

Humanist Society Scotland brought the issue of the blasphemy law to public prominence in 2016 when it published a report into the influence of religion in Scots Law. Although the last successful prosecution for “blasphemy” in Scotland was in 1843 – leading some to questioned the necessity for the law’s repeal – it has long been argued by victims of blasphemy allegations that the repeal of so-called “dead letter” laws is essential as it “sends a clear signal to the global family of nations that “blasphemy” laws contravene the human rights to freedom of thought and freedom of expression and should be repealed.”

Humanist Society Scotland successfully pushed for the Scottish parliament to repeal the offence by gathering public support through a petition, by submitting evidence to the Parliament on how blasphemy laws are used around the world to persecute Humanists and marginalized faith groups, and by arranging protests. The organization has also been at the forefront of a coalition of actors working to ensure that the Hate Crimes and Public Order (Scotland) Act meets standards of international law, leading to successive amendments to the proposed bill designed to safeguard freedom of expression while countering hate crime. 

Gary McLelland, Chief Executive of Humanists International

Chief Executive of Humanists International, Gary McLelland, commented:

“The passage into law of the Hate Crimes and Public Order (Scotland) Act makes Scotland the tenth nation to repeal its blasphemy laws since the launch of the End Blasphemy Laws Campaign in 2015.

I salute the dedication of Humanist Society Scotland in their work to realise the repeal of blasphemy in Scotland.

Scotland has sent a strong signal here to the rest of the world that so-called “blasphemy laws” are wrong and should be repealed. We echo this message, and re-issue our call for an end to all blasphemy laws around the world.”

Northern Ireland is now the only nation within the United Kingdom to retain “blasphemy” laws on its statutes. In 2019, Northern Ireland Humanists launched a campaign to repeal the blasphemy laws in Northern Ireland. As a result of this campaign all of the major political parties in Northern Ireland came out in support of repeal, except for the Democratic Unionist Party, which is opposed, and the Ulster Unionist Party, which is still forming its policy.


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