From the British Humanist Association (BHA):
Echoing the deeply mistaken comments of Communities Secretary Eric Pickles MP earlier this week, the Prime Minister David Cameron has today repeated the assertion that ‘Britain is a Christian country and we shouldn’t be ashamed to say so’ at a reception for Christians at Downing Street. Like Mr Pickles’, the Prime Minister’s remarks misrepresent the true nature of Britain and give further cause for concern that government is seeking to politicise religion and misrepresent the demography of the country for political ends.
More worryingly, the Prime Minister also promised that it was his mission ‘to expand the role of faith and faith organisations in this country.’ He claimed that this has been a ‘consistent theme’ of his government and that ‘there’s more [government] can do to help make it easier for faith organisations.’ He spoke out in favour of more ‘evangelism’ in the UK, and stressed the need for ‘more belief’.
In recent years, Government has made a number of attempts to ‘make it easier’ for religious organisations, and has ignored calls from equalities and human rights groups for changes to the contracting out of public services to religious groups, who under current law are immune from Equality Act and Human Rights Act requirements even when carrying out services on behalf of the public.
The Prime Minister celebrated the ‘Free Schools’ initiative for ‘allowing Church schools to expand.’ Religious schools are unpopular with the public and the BHA has been campaigning steadily in opposition to Government policy. The Fair Admissions Campaign, in which the BHA plays a lead role, has also been putting pressure on the Department for Education to change its policy regarding ‘faith’ schools, and it has repeatedly turned up evidence that the expansion of the role of religion in our education system is disadvantaging local communities through discriminatory admissions policies.
Commenting on the Prime Minister’s remarks, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson stated, ‘The vast majority of British people – who are not believing practising Christians – will deeply regret the comments of their Prime Minister today. He is wrong when he says that Britain is a Christian country: most of us aren’t Christian in our beliefs and our society has been shaped for the better by many pre-Christian, non-Christian, and post-Christian forces. He is equally misguided in wanting to increase the role of religious organisations in our society. This divisive activity is unpopular and undemocratic and has negative consequences for the rights and freedoms of many in Britain. More generally, people certainly don’t want religion to have more influence in government – in a 2006 IpsosMori poll, “religious groups and leaders” actually topped the list of domestic groups that people said had too much influence on government.’
In response to the Prime Minister’s comments on the persecution of Christians around the world, Mr Copson continued, ‘There is a consensus in modern Britain that everyone should have freedom of thought and belief and that persecution of anyone for their beliefs is wrong and should be stopped. It’s right that our country should take a lead in speaking out for oppressed minorities wherever and whoever they are. What is regrettable is that our Prime Minister should try to exceptionalise Christians in this way – Jews, non-religious people, Muslims, Buddhists and others are equally at risk in a range of ways that deserve our urgent attention.’