Protect human rights from religious imposition, NSS urges UN

The National Secular Society has called on the United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC) to address religious threats to human rights in the UK.

For the first time, the NSS has submitted evidence on the UK’s implementation of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the HRC oversees.

The ICCPR is an international human rights treaty ratified by the UK in 1976.

Collective worship

Collective worship is a statutory requirement in all state schools. Withdrawal from collective worship requires parental consent for children not in Sixth Form.

The NSS said this arrangement is incompatible with the right to freedom of religion or belief enshrined in the ICCPR.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has twice told the UK government to repeal laws mandating worship.

Faith based school admissions

Oversubscribed state funded faith schools are permitted to discriminate on religious grounds in their admissions.

This is legally enabled by exemptions from the Equality Act 2010, which the NSS said were incompatible with non-discrimination articles of the ICCPR.

The NSS said admissions criteria were become “increasingly restrictive” and in some cases amounted to “coercive control over families”.

Freedom of expression

Blasphemy and blasphemous libel remain common law offences in Northern Ireland, thereby infringing on the article 19 right to freedom of expression.

The NSS also warned of emerging de facto blasphemy codes and called on the government to offer “robust public support” to individuals and organisations accused of blasphemy.

Forced genital cutting

The non-therapeutic circumcision of boys continues to enjoy a presumed exemption to the law of wounding in the UK.

The NSS said the practice endangers children’s rights to life and security of the person.

Religious circumcision of infants is routinely carried out without anaesthetic, which the NSS said was in violation of the prohibition on cruel treatment.

NSS: ‘Government must set aside fears of offending religious groups’

NSS spokesperson Alejandro Sanchez, said: “Too often human rights are relegated or ignored when they clash with the interests of religious communities.

“The government must now set aside fears of offending religious groups and take all necessary steps to uphold the rights enshrined in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.”

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