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England is the largest of four countries that form the United Kingdom. The other three countries are Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. England has a nominal state or "established" religion in the form of the Church of England, a protestant denomination and the mother church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. There is also a significant following of the Catholic church. The Freedom of Thought Report 2014 found that there was "Systemic Discrimination" against atheists in the UK, saying:

"This country is found to be in flux. Religion has little unwanted influence over most people in daily life, and the number identifying as non-religious in the most recent census has increased dramatically; however some education reforms in the past few years including in 2014 have increased the influence of religion in schools and removed secular options from some courses. [1]"

While there is a state religion, it has very limited impact on every day life. In 2007 a report was published by The Church of England which indicated that church attendance was falling between 1 and 3 percent a year between 2004 and 2005.[2] The number of people attending traditional Sunday services was only 881,000 (which is approximately 1.8% of the population of England.) There are a great many other religions represented in the population and some have suggested that the decline in Church of England attendances is matched by a rise in popularity of other religions.


Religion and state

There is no formal separation of church and state in England. Church of England bishops each have a seat in the House of Lords (the upper chamber of parliament) by right. The nominal head of the Church of England is the monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II, who is also the head of state. Bishops are formally appointed by the current Prime Minister who is given a short-list of two names selected by a special church commission.

Despite the closeness of church and state, it is very rare for an English politician to parade his or her faith (if any.) All prime ministers in recent years have been Christian [3], although many politicians and party leaders are openly atheist. Tony Blair's press secretary, Alastair Campbell, famously said “We don’t do God.” yet immediately after Blair's resignation Blair converted to Catholicism, an act that surprised many. In an earlier interview with the BBC, Tony Blair said that he had avoided talking about his religious views while in office for fear of being labelled "a nutter".

While England has an established religion, the country is effectively a secular state. While clergy are respected they have little influence, even the Bishops in the House of Lords have little more than a chance to comment on legislation. The major churches are popular tourist attractions but more for their architecture and history than for their religious importance.

Religion and education

All state-funded schools are required to hold a short religious assembly for the entire school each morning. [4] There was no set format for such assemblies, but for most schools it would consist of a short sermon presented by the head or deputy-head master, a hymn, the Lord's Prayer and completed by general announcements about school matters. The entire assembly could take less than 15 minutes. Parents are allowed to withdraw their children from Collective Worship in state schools, while pupils over compulsory school age (16) are also able to "opt out".

For the first two years in secondary school (for 12-year-olds and up) there would be a compulsory weekly lesson called, in more traditional schools, Scripture, and in more modern schools, Religious Education (or Instruction.) These lessons tended to be more about the history of Christianity or comparative religion than direct Christian propaganda.

A significant number of faith schools are affiliated with the Church of England or the Catholic church. They are funded largely by the government but some schools, known as "voluntary aided schools", receive a contribution from denominational funds. Unsurprisingly, there is a much higher emphasis on religion within the curriculum. Teachers are expected to conform to the school's chosen denomination. There are a growing number of faith schools attached to various Christian, Jewish and Islamic sects. These receive no state funding but must provide the state mandated curriculum in addition to any religious teaching.

"Schools with a designated Church of England character are able to ask for Christian commitment as one of the criteria used in making staff appointments, so that the Christian character of the school may be effectively maintained. [5]"

Religion and the media

For many years the BBC would put on special religious television programming during Sunday early evenings. However, more recently this has reduced to the point of invisibly apart from "Songs of Praise", a program consisting mostly of traditional hymns. BBC radio regularly broadcasts a live Christian service on Sunday morning. It also has a long running "Thought for the Day" segment which is a brief scripted monologue by a religious leader. The BBC is a publicly funded entity, making their role in religious broadcasting objectionable to secularists. None of the other major UK broadcasters feature any kind of regular overt religious programming, but do present a number of "life style" programs with a thin layer of religion. There are cable channels dedicated to religious programming, much of it sourced from the USA.

There is almost no religious advertising in the British media. Religious advertising is permitted, but the rules strictly limit what may be said. In 2008, the Atheist Bus Campaign funded bus advertisement campaign that read "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

Bishops and other clergy are frequently invited to comment on TV and radio about local and world affairs.

Religious beliefs

There are a wide range of religions present in England. The 2011 census of England and Wales found significant response for Christian belief, although the vast majority of these people are non-practicing/cultural Christians. People responding as "no religion" increase significantly from 14.8% in 2001 to to 25.1% in 2011. [6]

There are significant local variations with some neighborhoods having as much as 35% Muslims (Tower Hamlets), 25% Hindu (Harrow), 11% Sikh (Slough), 15% Jewish (Barnet). Norwich had the highest proportion of people responding non-religious (42%) making it the most godless town in England and Wales. The Datashine visualisation provides insight into distribution of belief by area. This data suggests Christianity has been supplanted by other religions in major population centres which often have a more cosmopolitan population. [8]

Niche religions and denominations

Scientology has a major base near East Grinsted but has hardly any followers (2,418 in the 2011 census or 0.004%).

Missionaries from Mormonism and the Jehovah's Witnesses sometimes prosthelytize door-to-door.

Evangelical Christian movements

Despite predominantly secular attitudes in the United Kingdom, evangelical movements do of course exist, especially among Charismatic and Non-denominational Christianity. Christian Unions in schools and (especially) universities are active in promoting Christianity to the wider community, often through the use of cake. Indeed, food is used as one of the main tools to attract university students to listen to the claims of Christianity. Once the heathen's hunger has been satiated, it is usual for the Christian to ask the heathen to let Jesus into his/her heart. Thankfully, the vast majority of these attempts are unsuccessful.


  1. Freedom of Thought Report 2014
  2. [1]
  3. [2]
  4. [3]
  5. [4]
  6. ONAS, Religion in England and Wales 2011, 11 December 2012
  7. [5]
  8. Jon Welch, Census shows Norwich 'least religious city' in England and Wales, BBC, 11 December 2012
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