British Humanist Association

The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national voice of humanism in the UK today. It promotes humanism and represents ‘people who seek to live good lives without religious or superstitious beliefs.’

Foundation

The BHA was founded in 1896 by American Stanton Coit as the Union of Ethical Societies, which brought together existing ethical societies in Britain.

It became the British Humanist Association in 1967, during the Presidency of philosopher A.J. Ayer.

This transition followed a decade of discussions which nearly prompted a merger of the Union of Ethical Societies with the Rationalist Press Association and the South Place Ethical Society.

In 1963 the discussions went as far as creating an umbrella Humanist Association of which Harold Blackham (later to become a President of the BHA) was the Executive Director. However, the BHA, the Rationalist Association and the South Place Ethical Society remain separate entities today and in 1967 the Union of Ethical Societies alone became the British Humanist Association.

Campaigning

The 1960s the BHA campaigned on the repeal of Sunday Observance Laws and the reform of the 1944 Education Act’s clauses on religion in schools. More generally the BHA aimed to defend freedom of speech, support the elimination of world poverty and remove the privileges given to religious groups. Ambitiously, it was claimed in 1977 that the BHA aimed ‘to make humanism available and meaningful to the millions who have no alternative belief.’

Today the BHA’s public affairs work is a powerful secular voice on issues of human rights and equality, ethical issues, freedom of speech and in education where it campaigns against ‘faith’ schools and for the reform of Religious Education.

The BHA has been active in arguing for voluntary euthanasia and the right to obtain an abortion. It has always sought an ‘open society’.

Local groups and Humanist Ceremonies

The BHA has long supported a number of local communities, continuing today as a network of affiliated local humanist groups.

A network of celebrants able to conduct non-religious funerals, weddings, naming ceremonies and same sex affirmations (before the law allowing gay civil partnerships) was also developed and continues today as Humanist Ceremonies.

Education

Educational issues have always featured prominently in BHA campaigns activities, including efforts to abolish daily worship in schools and to reform Religious Education so that it is objective, fair and balanced and includes learning about humanism as an alternative life stance. Gaining recognition for humanism as a lifestance has been a constant theme.

The BHA was a co-founder of the Social Morality Council (now transmuted into the Norham Foundation), which brought together believers and unbelievers concerned with moral education and with finding agreed solutions to moral problems in society.

Opening ‘public’ services to the non-religious

The Humanist Housing Association (now the St Pancras & Humanist Housing Association) attempted to provide accommodation for needy, elderly humanists, the Agnostics Adoption Society worked to gain adoption rights for the non-religious and the Humanist Counselling Group pioneered in non-directive counselling.

The BHA headquarters is located on Gower Street, London.

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