SECULARRESPONSE

Secularists respond to report on Britain’s religion and beliefs by requesting equal treatment for all, regardless of religious beliefs.

Following the publication of a report by the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life (CORAB) released in December 2015. In March 2016, a panel of secularist experts assembled at the University of Warwick to come up with a response to the findings of the report. This response, titles “A Secularist Response,” suggests a framework built on shared values and to put to an end to unjustified religious privilege, instead focusing on giving equal weight and protection to all citizens.

CORAB was chaired by the Rt Hon Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss. The commission’s purpose was to examine the role of religion and belief in Britain, and to come up with recommendations for public life and policy. The “Living with Difference: Community, Diversity and the Common Good” report made a total of 37 recommendations grouped into six categories, namely: education, vision, media, dialogue, action and law.

The panel of experts preparing the secularist response and chaired by Dr. Steven Kettell notes that the CORAB report did not adequately feature the views and opinions of secularists. According to the panel, of the twenty members that made the CORAB commission, only one was from a non-religious organization. The panel remarked in its response, “Secular voices were also given insufficient weight in the recommendations of the final report. Despite acknowledging the decline of religion, along with the rise of non-religion and the growing diversity of religion and belief in Britain, CORAB sought to promote an enhanced and more prominent role for faith in British public life.”

The secularists response states, “We believe that the Commission’s attempt to put religion at the very center of British public life offers a one-dimensional, diminished and limited view of modern British society. Instead we emphasize an alternative, inclusive and positive secularist framework based on shared values to put an end to unjustified religious privilege and to ensure that the rights and freedoms of all citizens are afforded equal weight and protection.”

British Social Attitude Surveys have identified that the proportion of British citizens describing themselves as having no religion has risen from 31 percent in 1983 to 48.9 percent in 2014. The proportion of adults identifying as Christian fell from 67 percent to 41.7 percent in the same period. The proportion of people belonging to faiths other than Christianity grew from 2 percent to 7.7 percent in the same period.

The panel says these statistics support the need for a secularist state that bears no preference for any religion. They believe that such a state “provides the most effective framework for guaranteeing equality for all citizens and offers the best means of fostering a free, inclusive and democratic society.”

The panel also expressed the concern that, “With a growing proportion of Britain’s now identifying as non-religious, and with levels of cultural pluralism and diversity on the rise, the need for a political and legal system capable of giving equal weight and recognition to all citizens has never been greater.”

Some of the key recommendations made in the secularist response include having no religious organization enjoying the privilege of automatic representation in parliament, as well as the abolition of faith schools and core subjects such as reading and math being given higher status than religion instead of equal treatment.

Resources

Follow the Conversation on Twitter