Humanist Witness Testifies at Federal Hearing on Global Blasphemy Laws

Humanist Witness Testifies at Federal Hearing on Global Blasphemy Laws December 10, 2020

From the AHA:

At a virtual hearing conducted today by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Humanists International director of advocacy Elizabeth O’Casey testified to how the United States can effectively work toward the repeal of blasphemy laws around the world within the scope of the international human rights system. The hearing comes on the heels of a resounding 386-3 vote by the House of Representatives to adopt a resolution calling for the global repeal of blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws.

“Blasphemy laws not only undermine the rights to freedom of belief and freedom of expression, they are also discriminatory by nature,” shared O’Casey in her testimony to the Commission. “To have true freedom of religion or belief for all, you have to accept blasphemy.”

Blasphemy laws, which exist in more than a third of the world’s countries, ban criticism of religious beliefs, symbols, and figures. Targeting not only nonbelievers and minority religious sects, but also women, the LGBTQ community, and political dissidents, the penalty of violating a blasphemy law can be as severe as torture and death.

In her testimony, O’Casey recommended four actions to the Commission: building global literacy on human rights and freedom of religion or belief; tackling hate and intolerance whilst seeking to convince governments to repeal blasphemy laws; use diplomacy and multilateralism to support this work; and lead by example at home by passing the companion Senate Resolution to one recently passed in the House.

“There is a tendency by some countries to prioritise Christian minorities abroad or Muslim minorities. This is deeply unhelpful and shows a political, rather than real, commitment to change,” continued O’Casey. “To lead by example the US must show equal concern for all affected by blasphemy laws, whatever their beliefs.”

The USCIRF hearing coincides with the latest Freedom of Thought Report, which will be released this Thursday by Humanists International, the global representative body of the humanist movement. The annually released report examines every country in the world for its record on upholding the rights and equality for non-religious people.

“Humanists around the globe are leading the fight against religion-based prejudice, violence, and injustice,” shared Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association (AHA). “Today’s hearing demonstrates USCIRF’s commitment to protecting the freedom of religion and belief for all people, as well as the critical work necessary at home and with our partners abroad for us to see that commitment realized.”

“It was inspiring to see a near-unanimous vote by the House in support of a global repeal of blasphemy laws and we hope to see similar support in the Senate,” continued Speckhardt. “Humanists made clear through our testimony how urgently we need federal action on blasphemy laws. We can all agree that no one deserves to have their rights infringed because of their personal beliefs—we urge U.S. leaders to prioritize our values of freedom and justice into their work abroad.”

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About the American Humanist Association

The American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming worldview of humanism, which—without beliefs in gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity. Learn more at

About Humanists International

Humanists International is the global representative body of the humanist movement, uniting a diversity of non-religious organisations and individuals. We want everyone to live a life of dignity in a world where universal human rights are respected and protected, and where states uphold secularism. Learn more at

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