United Kingdom

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The United Kingdom in the Freedom of Thought Report, by the IHEU.
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The United Kingdom is state comprises England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland. It has a number of overseas sovereign territories that are not considered part of the UK itself.

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]"
"There are three striking tends: [...] increase in the number of people with non-religious beliefs and identities [...] general decline in Christian affiliation, belief and practice [...] increased diversity amongst people who have a religious faith [2]"

Contents

Religious beliefs

Religions in Great Britain – BSA 2009
Religion/Denomination Percent
%
No religion 50.7
Church of England 19.9
Roman Catholic 8.6
Presbyterian/Church of Scotland 2.2
Methodist 1.3
Other Protestant 1.2
Christian (no denomination) 9.3
Other Christian 0.4
Muslim 2.4
Hindu 0.9
Sikh 0.8
Judaism 0.4
Other religions 0.3
Refused / NA 0.4

Source: British Social Attitudes Surveys 2009.[3]

On being a Christian nation

The former British prime minister David Cameron has repeatedly claimed Britain is a Christian country:

"We are a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so"

— David Cameron [4]

However, A. C. Grayling argued that the nation owes more to the Greeks and Romans:

"First, Christianity not only does not have a monopoly on tolerance, kindness, and generosity – these are attitudes of individual human beings of any religion and none – but it has in a bloody and tumultuous past often exhibited the opposite of these characteristics. [...] Second, ‘being Christian’ was enforced on the residents of the British Isles for many centuries, on pain of punishment up to and including death. [...] Thirdly, for most of the time since the seventeenth century, Britain and its growing empire were run by graduates of the ancient universities. The main studies at those universities were the classics. [i.e.] the literature, philosophy and history of classical civilisation – ancient Greece and Rome.[5]"

Also, the UK is one of the least religious countries in the world: in a WIN/Gallup international poll only 30% of people claimed to be religious. [6] In England and Wales, people who say they have no religion now are a greater proportion of the population than Christians.[7]

The UK government does spend a significant amount of money on upkeep of historical church buildings, which arguably should be the responsibility of the owners. [8]

Religion in politics and religion

Although the Prime Minister is generally Christian (with exception of Benjamin Disraeli 1874-1880, 1868, being Jewish), this is less significant than it might be because religion is often considered a private affair. Former prime minster Tony Blair's communications director Alastair Campbell (an atheist) famously interrupted an interviewer asking the PM about religion, saying "We don't do God". [9] Prime Minister Theresa May is the only daughter of a clergyman:

"I am a practising member of the Church of England and so forth, that lies behind what I do"

— Prime Minister Theresa May[10]
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The monarch, currently Elizabeth II, is the head of state and the supreme governor of the Church of England. The office holder is banned by law from being a Catholic. Both roles are largely ceremonial. In 2011, a 300 year old ban on the monarch marrying a Catholic was lifted. [11]

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The motto that appears on the royal coat of arms (outside of Scotland) is "Dieu et mon droit", meaning "God and my right". This references the supposed divine right for a monarch to rule Romans 13:1-7 Bible-icon.png. The motto on the Scottish version is "In My Defens God Me Defend". These crests sometimes appear on government documents and newspaper mastheads.

Religious education and school prayer

Main Article: School prayer

The UK allows religiously affiliated "faith schools", which allows administrators to select some of their pupil intake by religious affiliation. The UK government is considering removing this limit to allow the entire pupil intake to be selected by religion.[12]

"By lifting the 50% cap the Government will be facilitating a proliferation of discriminatory and divisive faith schools. This may well serve the desires of some religious organisations but it fails to serve the needs of the majority of parents and pupils who simply want good schools, rather than religious schools – particularly ones that they will not have fair access to.[12]"

"Can [the chair of the Education Select Committee] think of a single reason why the child of an atheist parent like myself should be excluded from a school because of their parents' lack of faith? Does he also share my concern that 100% selection by faith risks driving communities into further segregation and does nothing to improve social cohesion?"

— Sarah Wollaston MP[13]

The Trojan Horse schools affair was an alleged incident in which a fundamentalist Islamic group attempted to take over the running of a group of schools in Birmingham. This lead to investigations by local and national government. [14] The reports concluded there was a group that attempted to introduce "aggressive Islamism" and a "conservative religious agenda" into a few schools in Birmingham.[15]

Non-faith schools are required by law to have collective daily worship that is "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character". However, most schools are not compliant with this law and calls for its abolition have increased in recent years. [16]

In 2015, the High Court ruled that the government unlawfully excluded atheism from the religious studies GSCE. [17] In response, the education secretary said that there is "no obligation for any school to give equal air time to the teaching of religious and non-religious views" and religious education should "reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are, in the main Christian". [18]

Hate speech laws

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Sharia courts

A 2016 statement signed by 300 abused women said Sharia courts caused great harm:

"We know from personal experiences that many religious bodies such as Sharia Councils are presided over by hard line or fundamentalist clerics who are intolerant of the very idea that women should be in control of their own bodies and minds. These clerics claim to be acting according to the word of God: but they are often corrupt, primarily interested in making money and abuse their positions of power by shaming and slandering those of us who reject those aspects of our religions and cultures that we find oppressive. We pay a huge price for not submitting to domestic violence, rape, polygamy and child abuse and other kinds of harm.[19]"

Prayer in government meetings

Some government meetings have time allocated for prayer as an agenda item. This discriminates against non-Christians and non-theists.[20]

"I propose we keep the prayer and the Mayor can say if anyone doesn't want to take part they can leave. Otherwise we're going to be inundated with these things. I don't agree that Britain isn't a Christian country; that's blasphemy.[21]"

Northern Ireland: religion as a sectarian marker?

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During the Troubles, conflicting groups in Northern Ireland largely defined themselves in political-religious terms: nationalist-republican-Catholic or unionist-loyalist-Protestant.

"Religion is a label of in-group/out-group enmity and vendetta, not necessarily worse than other labels such as skin colour, language or preferred football team, but often available when other labels are not. Yes, of course the troubles in Northern Ireland are political. There really has been economic and political oppression of one group by another, and it goes back centuries. There really are genuine grievances and injustices, and these seem to have little to do with religion; except that - and this is important and widely overlooked - without religion there would be no labels by which to decide whom to oppress and whom to avenge. And the real problem in Northern Ireland is that the labels are inherited down many generations. Catholics, whose parents, grandparents and great-grandparents went to Catholic schools, send their children to Catholic schools. Protestants, whose parents, grandparents and great-grandparents went to Protestant schools, send their children to Protestant schools. The two sets of people have the same skin colour, they speak the same language, they enjoy the same things, but they might as well belong to different species, so deep is the historic divide. And without religion, and religiously segregated education, the divide simply would not be there."

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

Chris Hedges argues this oversimplifies a complicated situation:

"[Dawkins] sees the ethnopoliticial conflict in Northern Ireland, for example, as the fault of religion. The conflict, he assures us, would end if the religious belief of the warring factions evaporated. [...] He does not recognize the difference between a loyalist and a unionist or a nationalist and a republican.[22]"

Evangelical religious groups such as ECONI may have had a role in the peace process, by challenging the link between nationalism and religion in the loyalist's Calvinist Christian views.[23]

Unlike the rest of the UK, abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland, largely due to religious influences.[24]

Media

The BBC is a publicly owned broadcaster, primarily operating in the UK but also around the world. It produces religious programs which are unpopular among most viewers. [25] Radio 4's flagship news program Today contains a Thought for the Day segment in which a religious speaker comments on current affairs. The National Secular Society has campaigned to have secular speakers included.[26]

Foreign policy

See also

References

  1. Freedom of Thought Report 2014
  2. [1]
  3. [2]
  4. [3]
  5. [4]
  6. Survey: UK is one of the least religious countries in the world
  7. [5]
  8. [6]
  9. [7]
  10. [8]
  11. [9]
  12. 12.0 12.1 [10]
  13. [11]
  14. [12]
  15. [13]
  16. Top judge leads calls to scrap mandatory daily Christian worship in UK schools
  17. [14]
  18. [15]
  19. [16]
  20. [17]
  21. [18]
  22. Chris Hedges, I Don't Believe in Atheists
  23. [http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/religionpublicsphere/2017/08/how-evangelical-religion-contributed-to-peace-in-northern-ireland-and-what-we-can-learn-from-it/
  24. [19]
  25. Religious programming isn’t popular, and no amount of hounding from the Church will change that
  26. [20]

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