The BHA Census Campaign

British Humanist Association ‘lf you mean “No Religion” for god’s sake say so!’

Why does it matter?

The Census gives the official figures about various aspects of the population. Data is used by government both locally and centrally as evidence to back up their policy decisions. If the number of people who appear to be religious is inflated, policies regarding service delivery, equality work and many other areas will be affected.

The previous government used census figures in the preamble of their document Face to Face and Side by Side, which set out a number of policies which disadvantaged non-religious people and secular groups in the voluntary sector.

Local authorities use census data when making decisions about resource allocation and the types of organisation which they want to deliver services.

The 2001 figure stating that 72% of the population are ‘Christian’ has been used in a variety of negative 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 non-religious people in Parliament and elsewhere.

If the 2011 census creates a similarly inaccurate figure, it may lead to further discrimination against non-religious people and greater privileging for religious groups and individuals, particularly if this is the last Census held.

Is there a Humanist box to tick?

No, Humanism is not one of the worldviews listed which has its own box. Instead, Humanists have two options. You can tick the ‘No Religion’ box or tick the ’Other’ box and write in ‘Humanist.’ Either way, you will be counted in the ‘No Religion’ category for the top-line results. However, in more detailed analysis, writing in ’Humanist’ may actually damage our argument as only very few people will write it in. This might make it look like there are only a few thousand Humanists in the UK, when we know there are millions! It is therefore best from our perspective to tick ‘No Religion.’

l wrote in ‘Jedi’ last time- should I do this again?

We understand that many people wrote in ‘Jedi’ as a form of protest at being asked about their beliefs. We are encouraging people to tick the ‘No Religion’ box instead for 2 reasons -1) in the top line analysis, a ‘Jedi’ would be counted as ‘No Religion’ anyway, 2) the more people who positively identify as non-religious, the better chance we have of ensuring secular services and policy.

I’m an agnostic- is there a box for me to tick?

No, but you can tick ‘other’ and write it in if you want to. lf you are agnostic on the question of God but otherwise non-religious, we would say you should tick the ‘No Religion’ box.

The question is not compulsory- shouldn’t I just refuse to answer it at all?

You can do, if you feel that that is the right thing for you to do. But we are strongly encouraging people to tick the ‘No Religion’ box if they are not religious as this will lead to more accurate results and better evidence to use in policy making.

What can we do as a local group?

The main work around the Census will be happening between October 2010 to March 2011 (the Census will be held in March.) During that time you can:

  • Support the campaign online – we will provide a link which you can upload on to your website to spread the word.
  • Support the campaign in the media – we will provide template letters and press releases to local media.
  • Support the campaign locally- we can provide you with contacts for your local authority who will be working on the Census. You can contact them and help them reach Humanists via your group.
  • Support the campaign publicly- we can help you run a public meeting on the issues to discuss the Census generally and the ‘religion’ questions specifically.

We are still in the planning stage of this new phase of the campaign. We want to hear your thoughts and ideas. Contact BHA to tell us what you think: 0207462 4992

The background

In 2001, the Census included a question on religion for the first  time. The question was ‘What is your religion?’ and has been widely criticised for being too leading. It resulted in just 14.6% of respondents in England and 18.63% in Wales ticking the ’None’ box despite other surveys and studies showing a much higher percentage of non-religious people. The Scottish figure, where respondents were asked about the religion they were brought up in, as well as their current religion, showed  significantly more respondents ticking ’None’: 27.55%, in spite of far higher figures for Church attendance in Scotland.

The BHA worked with the office of National Statistics (ONS) to try and improve the question for the 2011 Census. However, despite agreeing to the testing of alternative questions, and admitting that the existing question was flawed; the ONS took the decision to keep the same inadequate question for the 2011 Census.

What does it measure anyway?

There has been some debate about the usefulness of the question in  terms of what it hopes to achieve. There are so many aspects to the term ’religion’ and so many different interpretations of the meaning of the question, that it is difficult to work out if the final figure relates to the number of people who believe in the doctrines of a particular religion, actively practice the religion, personally identify themselves as a member of that religion, or simply have a vague cultural affiliation with a certain religion.

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