‘If you’re not religious, say so!’ – that is the simple request of a campaign being launched by Humanists UK and supported by Shropshire Humanists, encouraging people who are not in any meaningful sense religious to tick the ‘No religion’ box on the 2021 Census. Shropshire Humanists are supporting the campaign because the biased and leading nature of the Census question ‘What is your religion?’ has in the past caused many people who don’t believe in or practise a religion to nonetheless tick a religion box by default. In 2011 the consequence was that, compared with more accurate surveys, the number of non-religious people was cut in half.
In the West Midlands, the non-religious make up 49.3% of the population according to the British Social Attitudes Survey (BSAS), which is the most extensive annual survey of the UK public, compared to only 22% in the Census. Across Britain as a whole, BSAS shows that the non-religious make up 52% of the population, but this is not reflected in the 2011 Census data which records only 25%.This matters because Census results are used by the government and local authorities to make important policy decisions. These include how to allocate funding to state services such as education, health, social care, and pastoral care. The continuing requirement for compulsory Christian worship in state schools is justified based on the Census results, as is the ever-increasing number of state faith schools, and aspects of our constitutional settlement like, for example, the ongoing presence of 26 bishops voting in Parliament.
Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:
Our message is simple: if you don’t believe in or practise any religion and don’t want to be counted as if you do, then you should tick the “No religion” box in this year’s Census. You may be ticking a religious box out of cultural sympathy or family history, but the effect is that you will count as religious in policymakers’ eyes. The best way to make clear that this is wrong is by everyone who is not religious in any meaningful sense ticking the “No religion” box this year.