NSS says religion's role in the UK needs 'significant reform'

NSS says religion's role in the UK needs 'significant reform' December 26, 2016

As churchgoing and belief in God continues to decline, the public role of religion in Britain needs ‘significant reform’ says a new report from the National Secular Society.
Rethinking Religion and Belief in Public Life: A Manifesto for Change, issued at the weekend, says the the Church of England’s position as the established church with the Queen as Supreme Governor is “no longer tenable” and needs a rethink.

Christianity Today reports that the National Secular Society document, which is being sent this week to all MPs, calls for Britain to “evolve” into a secular democracy with a clear separation between religion and state. Its main demand is that the Church of England should no longer enjoy the patronage of the state.
Rethinking Religion notes that the Church of England is established only in England, not Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. The Church of Scotland is the national church in Scotland but has few privileges comparable to those of the Church of England.
It points out that:

One of the greatest privileges of the Church of England is the 26 bishops from English dioceses with ex officio seats in the UK Parliament, which gives them significant power to introduce and amend UK-wide legislation. The UK parliament is the only one in the world where bishops have such seats.
Other significant privileges include the Church’s currently pre-eminent role in national ceremonies, especially the coronation, and the monarch being the Supreme Governor of the Church, over whose liturgy and regulation Parliament has nominal control.

The NSS says this privileged status fails to reflect society as it is today and leads to inequity and unfairness.

The secularists also call for a moratorium on all new faith schools.
The time has come to separate church and state in order to ensure equality and fairness for believers and non-believers alike.

It says the current multi-faith approach is “at odds with the increasing religious indifference” in Britain.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said:

Terry Sanderson

Vast swathes of the population are simply not interested in religion, it doesn’t play a part in their lives, but the state refuses to recognise this.
Britain is now one of the most religiously diverse and, at the same time, non-religious nations in the world. Rather than burying its head in the sand, the state needs to respond to these fundamental cultural changes.
Our report sets out constructive and specific proposals to fundamentally reform the role of religion in public life to ensure that every citizen can be treated fairly and valued equally, irrespective of their religious outlook.

The report also warns that the rise of so called “sharia courts” risks undermining the legal system. Allowing groups to opt-out of the state legal system in favour of a religious alternative:

Strikes at the heart of citizenship and a cohesive society.

The report also urges politicians to refrain from describing Britain as a “Christian country”.

Any approach which seeks to label the values widely shared by UK citizens as exclusively “Christian” is doomed to be out of touch with the views and lifestyles of the population.

George Broadhead, of the Coventry & Warwickshire Humanists, pointed out that Prime Minister Theresa May is well-know for doing just that:

In her Christian message Theresa May said: ‘As we gather with our friends and families at this time of year we proudly celebrate the birth of Christ and the message of forgiveness, love and hope that He brings.
‘We also think of Christians in other parts of the world who face persecution this Christmas and re-affirm our determination to stand up for the freedom of people of all religions to practise their beliefs in peace and safety.’

This, said Broadhead:

Is an extraordinary presumption that all recipients of her message are, like herself, committed Christians with no recognition of those of other faiths and none (now about half the population according to the last British Social Attitudes survey).
She is of course quite right in drawing attention to the persecution of Christians in other parts of the world, but what about the barbaric treatment of non-believers, especially those in Islamic countries? it seems that in the minds of Christians like May atheists, Humanists and other non-believers don’t exist.

But Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain of Maidenhead Synagogue said:

It may be true that more people in Britain are now secular rather than religious, but the report dismisses too easily the fact that the country is still based on Christian culture and Christian values.

It also glosses over the fact that the Church of England has been very accommodating to other faiths and stepped back to make room for them in the national life. While this may undermine the NSS’s assertions about the disproportionate role of faith in Britain, some of the recommendations still deserve attention.
Publicly funded faith schools have become agents of segregation and should no longer be allowed to discriminate in pupil admissions or teacher employment. The role of Sharia Councils should be reviewed to ensure that individual freedoms are not denied. A Humanist should be allowed to contribute to the BBC’s Thought for the Day. Expansive demands such as Disestablishment are an ask-too-far, but some gentle nudges are needed to keep faith tolerant.

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  • Bubblecar

    “the country is still based on Christian culture and Christian values”
    Um, no. What aspects of modern, mainstream British culture could be described as “Christian”? None at all, as far as I can discern.
    And “British values” are pretty much the same as in any other liberal Western democracy – largely derived from secular humanism.

  • Stephen Mynett

    A good report from the NSS and I am glad it has been published, although they are very much stating the obvious and that is the tragedy of the situation we are in. While it is obvious to anyone who can or who is willing to think, it is ignored by many politicians and religionists because it does not fit well within their game plan.
    Religionists are some of the most selfish people on the planet, they refuse to accept many of the ideas of others and do their utmost to push their ideology, despite, especially in the case of the CofE, it being widely rejected by the majority of the population.
    Theresa May knows this but, like Thatcher is thick-skinned and intransigent and happy to force her beliefs on us and it is gratefully accepted by the religious minority who are trying to hang on to their privilege.
    May should not even be Prime Minister and that is nothing to do with her Brexit stance, she is basically unelected. Many vote for the party and its leader they think best to lead the country and not because of the local candidate. My constituency has a very good Labour guy, David Drew who was hated by Blair and is distrusted by the loony left because he has a habit of thinking and being pragmatic but he is unlikely to get back in because of the state of the Labour Party. There are many locally that would have voted for him if Labour had been a better party but chose what they thought was the best, or least worst, option in Cameron. He has gone and when any PM resigns or is forced to resign the public should have the right to choose the next PM, not have her or him foist upon us by whatever party faction is in the ascendancy at that time.

  • Newspaniard

    @Stephen Mynett. Sometimes contributors on this site talk absolute bollocks. I am going to explain this simply in the hope that you can get it into your thick, republican, head. This kingdom is not governed by a president, despite what the leader of the Scottish parliament would aspire to. We elect representatives who appear to reflect our political bent. They form groups and, in turn, elect their own leader, although parties, like Labour, choose to go over their heads and run a presidential election of sorts which can be outside the will of the elected members. The leader of the majority party then becomes leading politician representing the kingdom, in other words, Prime Minister. Of course May was elected. She was elected as leader of her party and as the Tories are the majority party, she is, therefore Prime Minister. As with Margaret Thatcher and many other leaders, once the party becomes dissatisfied with him/her, they will, internally, vote for change and we will get a new Prime Minister. (With me so far?) I hate the idea that my country’s leader is a religious fundamentalist, and will vote accordingly at the next election, but the party to whom my elected representative is a member, chose her and therefore, I must swallow it. To you, I say, she’s there, stop moaning and get used to it.

  • Stephen Mynett

    Newspaniard, I am not moaning I am putting forward a point of view, obviously you disagree but that is your choice. Had you bothered to consider what I had posted you would see why I think there should be an election when a party leader, of any party in geovernment, is changed.
    Had you posted a reasoned argument I would not have bothered to reply like this but as you find it necessary to begin with an insult I thought it worth so in hope you may consider a better approach in the future.
    If you wish to resort to calling people thick I would remind you that a while back you accused the likes of Dawkins, Hawking, Kraus, Coyne and may others of being navel gazers purely because they had a PhD, something you were unable to comprehend.

  • Dawkstein

    Mankind is amazing in that it has produced astonishing feats of technology, physics, chemistry, medicine, mathematics, biology, pharmacology, agriculture, engineering (civil, mechanical, electrical, electronic, chemical and industrial). Amazing feats that are beyond the wildest dreams of fifty years ago. And the acheivements to come in the next fifty years will make those of the last fifty look paltry. And yet mankind has progressed hardly at all in the last two millenia in the struggle to free itself from the horrors and retardations of religion. Religion is an abomination, it is a blight upon humanity. It is the festering pus laden abcess on the arse of humanity. Time to lance the boil and set humanity free from the pain and horrors inflicted upon itself by the pious.

  • L.Long

    Good luck, the USA has it in their constitution and can’t get the dimwitted xtians to keep their delusions to themselves! But then you are a lot better off then the Iranian atheists & other ahole countries of similar ilk!

  • Broga

    What we have at present is a religious fiction based on fraudulent claims to try to make us believe that we are a religious country. Does this matter? I think it matters greatly. The religious leaders strut and posture, have unelected places in Parliament, and ready access to the BBC. The structure is bogus, has been rotting for years and the deceit places dishonesty at the heart of the nation.
    The consequence is that the majority of people who care little for religion are left as an unwilling audience. They are presented with what is a pantomime and the public know that it is a hoax. And at its core is an unprincipled insistence that we are all religious despite the evidence of our own experience.
    With such a deceit any sense of morality is weakened. What example is offered of honesty when the scam is perpetrated daily. The religious air we breathe is fetid. We need the fresh air that comes from an acceptance of what we know to be the reality.

  • Angela_K

    An excellent report from the NSS, of which I am a long standing member. However, many MPs whilst agreeing with the reports contents, will be fearful of acting upon its recommendations for fear of upsetting some of their constituents, especially those with many Muslims.
    OT. I’ve just seen the film “Sausage Party” very funny, it ridicules all religions. We discussed the film here a few months back.http://freethinker.co.uk/2016/08/13/new-animated-movie-slammed-for-being-strongly-anti-religious/

  • In Britain, Christianity is in decline; Islam and black evangelical Christianity are on the rise. The loony liberal-left will no doubt approve of this. Don’t worry, lefties, you’ll be first against the wall when they become the majority.

  • Such a wonderful photograph of our Queen. Gawd bless you , ma’am, and long may you reign! We fervently hope that Charles, future Defender of the Faiths, will be your equal in majesty, dignity, and stature when he is crowned our King.

  • Broga

    Brenda,a world class freeloader, is her creepy self in that photo as she almost manages a smirk while surrounded by the fawning great and the good. Just check out the reverential smiles of the Archbishop in his frock and the other guy.

  • Republican

    It is a national disgrace, a humiliatition, to be a country without a constitution and the unwilling host to a coterie of aged out of touch hereditary irrelevances and their battalions of unctuous prostitute acolytes and overdressed sinister conduits to a wholly imaginary myth.
    It’s primitive and a nonsense and an affront to the intelligence of the “unwashed serfs” that support them.

  • barriejohn

    Broga: Front page headline (I kid you not) in today’s Mail is that the Queen evidently asked why Britain couldn’t “just leave” the EU. I know that a lot of the semi-literate, gullible, Baked Off general public think that way, but this is the woman who is supposed to be kept highly informed about national affairs, and proffer “valuable advice” to successive prime ministers et al. Another great advert for “home schooling”!

  • Broga

    @barriejohn: And once a week the PM has to appear before this ignorant woman and play the game of needing her “advice.” All that is about is massaging her inflated ego.
    She has spent her life surrounded by shameless sycophants treating everything she says as coming from a latter day Socrates – I mean the sage, not the footballer. And, of course, she does the religious bit as God’s chosen one.
    The result is that this limited woman thinks she is knowledgeable. She reads what is written for her, gets transported in luxury to wave to the subjects and manages a wave and a rictus that passes as a smile.
    What is truly farcical is that she thinks she is in tune with her “subjects.” In tune to the extent she is going to have £300 million extracted from the plebs to spend on her palace.

  • Stephen Mynett

    Broga, BJ, It can only get worse, when Brenda pops her clogs we have Number One Son to look forward to, a multi-faith homoeopath.

  • Broga

    @Republican: I read that their Christmas fun includes blasting masses of wild birds, carefully bred for them, out of the sky. The detached, in every sense of the word, William will get a bit of blood spilling when he visits his wife’s in-laws.
    The scam is brilliant for them as so many plebs have been brainwashed into condemning themselves to inferiority by drooling over the Windsors. The name was changed, of course, to hide their foreign antecedents.

  • barriejohn

    Republican: The true extent of this “wholly imaginary myth” only becomes clear when one looks into British Israelism, as I have said before. Most Britons know nothing of this, but some members of the Royal Family still believe that the Queen is a direct descendant of King David, with all the “divine approval” that that fact affords!

  • Stuart H.

    In both the UK parliament and those in UK dependencies and commonwealth countries, one of the problems is that the committees ostensibly there to look at religious links to the state only have Anglican knee-jerkers on them. For example, Westminster has what I think is called the Ecclesiastical Committee, which is supposed to review any church bill drawn up by the Vicar General before it passes through parliament, as such acts can only be passed or rejected in total by the House of Commons, not discussed or commented on at the various stages like normal legislation. That process is supposed to ensure MPs have a way to query detail, but in practice only hardened god-botherers sit on the committee, so there’s no balance as in any other committee considering any other act to save parliamentary time. There is no apparent requirement in law or interest in any political party for such a committee to have opposing voices to balance the scrutiny.
    In crown dependencies it’s even worse. Here in Isle of Man the bishop sits in the equivalent of UK House of Lords, but while every UK bishop is chosen by a lengthy process which eventually involves two names being submitted to the UK Prime Minister, who “recommends” one to the Queen, here there is only one candidate from a committee chaired by the Archbishop of York. Last time round he chose his personal chaplain and assistant and nobody else had any say in the matter.
    So, a church leader in one country chooses a senior politician in another and not even other senior politicians in that country get a say? Yup, that’s 21st century democracy in action. Even Victorian colonialism had better checks and balances.

  • Cali Ron

    First I’ve heard of British Israelism, what a load of BS. I never understood why some British still put them on a pedestal, when my inclination would be to storm the castle, taking back what should be the peoples and putting their heads on stakes, or the modern equivalent. Of course, my knowledge of British relations with their monarchy is quite limited. My new king is about to be Trump so the delusion is strong here, too.

  • barriejohn

    Cali Ron: Have you ever heard of the Royal Touch? It was widely believed in Europe, at one time, that the touch of the monarch (the Lord’s anointed) was capable of curing disease. When King Charles I was relieved of the weight of his not very heavy brain, people surged forward to mop up his blood with handkerchiefs, believing that they would then have healing powers.
    Fancy being touched up by the monarch!

  • Broga

    @Stephen Mynett: Number one son is currently busy unloading his concerns on cabinet ministers including, I assume, his wish to fund homeopathy on the NHS. The content of his “spider letters” is so embarrassing, and time wasting that – I speculate – their exposure to the public has been blocked – I think under the Official Secrets Act.
    I see that other shiftless Windsor, known as Air Miles Andy, has recently ordered up a helicopter at considerable public expense as he didn’t fancy a few miles drive in a car. I assume these extravagances are authorised by senior military people looking for another worthless bauble from Brenda. The public continue to be shafted big time by this bunch of mediocrities.

  • Republican

    I never fancied a flight in a helicopter on the grounds that if anything breaks there is not much chance of survival. Let’s hope my fears of helicopters are realised at least when the parasitic Prinz Andrew takes to the skies. At least Charlie put a stop to the demands of Prinz Andrew that his sproggy daughters get some kind of paid role. Well done Charlie, that the first good thing you have ver done.

  • Stephen Mynett

    Republican, OT but one of my favourite quotes. Many years ago there was a documentary of some sort with an RAF pilot and he came out with a great line: “A helicopter has all the aerodynamics of a grand piano.”

  • Gui

    “In Britain, Christianity is in decline;Islam and black evangelical Christianity are on the rise”
    So, somehow black evangelicals do not count as christians. Good to know.

  • StephenJP

    Back on topic: I agree with Angela_K, the whole report is well worth reading, and all its recommendations are worth working for. The NSS are sending it to all MPs. We could all do worse than write asking them to take it seriously.