AN idiotic decision by companies owning advertising space in railway stations to ban British Humanist Association census campaign posters has caused puzzlement and outrage among secularists.
The posters, designed to encourage non-religious people to tick the “None” box when asked “What is your religion?” had the slogan:
If you’re not religious, for God’s sake say so.
But, according to the BHA, they were rejected byÂ CBS Outdoors, who administer billboards in stations, for two reasons:
They were concerned that the use of the phrase â€˜for God’s sake’ would cause widespread and serious offence and they also did not wish to take adverts relating to religion.
The advertising campaign on buses in London, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Birmingham, Cardiff and Exeter has now been launched with a new slogan that reads:
Not religious? In this year’s census say so.
Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the BHA, said of the original slogan:
It was a little tongue-in-cheek, but in the same way that saying ‘bless you’ has no religious implication for many, ‘for God’s sake’ is used to express urgency and not to invoke a deity. This censorship of a legitimate advert is frustrating and ridiculous: the blasphemy laws in England have been abolished but we are seeing the same principle being enforced nonetheless.
Writing in the New Statesman, Helen Lewis Hasteley said:
Of course, as Andrew Copson points out, the campaign is not about dissuading â€˜those who hold strong religious beliefs from holding them’, but rather ensuring that the census presents a more accurate picture of religiosity in Britain â€¦ The last census, with its leading â€˜What is your religion?’ question, saw 71.8 percent of respondents say they were Christian, a figure that is contradicted by numerous other surveys on the country’s religious make-up. Yet the 71.8 percent figure is consistently invoked by policy makers to back up the increasing role for religious organisations in the provision of public services.
It seems a very odd decision. Pro-religious adverts, such as those for the Alpha course (a Christian programme), the Christian Party and the Trinitarian Bible Society, have recently appeared on public transport.Â The Trinitarian adverts said ‘the fool hath said in his heart, there is no God’, Copson told me. That seems more offensive, if you want to look at it that way! It’s ridiculous.
Personally, I am rather pleased about the ban, because it has served to further publicise the very real importance of getting the figures right this time around.
The BHA points out here that there are real, practical problems with the use of skewed data.
Both central and local government use such data in resource allocation and for targeting equality initiatives. And the figure stating that around 72 percent of the population are â€˜Christian’ has been used in a variety of ways, such as to justify the continuing presence of Bishops in the House of Lords, to justify the state-funding of faith schools (and their expansion), to justify and increase religious broadcasting and to exclude the voices of humanists in Parliament and elsewhere. The question is not fit for the purposes for which it was included, for the first time, in 2001.
A similar attempt to have non-believers properly represented in official statistics is also being made in Australia, where a Census is due to take place on August 9.
The Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA) is preparing for one of its biggest and most important projects. The AFA will be unveiling billboards across the nation in major cities stating:
Census 2011: Not religious now? Mark ‘No religion’ and take religion out of politics.
The AFA has also launched a new website designed to encourage individuals and families to think about the importance and impact of their answer to the Census question: “What is the person’s religion?”
AFA President David Nicholls said:
Data from the Census is used by parliamentarians and religious leaders to sway politics and social policy in favour of complying with religious tenets and ecclesiastical notions. In fact in many cases, it makes a situation where a decision that should rely on empirical evidence is overridden by religious demands.
The coming Census in Australia is an important chance to make sure your interests are met in decision making and funding and that views
you do not hold are not over-represented in the coming years. I encourage everyone to visit the website and make sure they are informed of the implications of their answers, and if you are not religious now to mark â€˜No religion’ on August 9.
Hat tip: Adam Tjaavk