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2011 Census Campaign talk at Chichester University

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Naomi Phillips, Head of Public Affairs for the British Humanist Association (BHA), gave a talk about the 2011 Census Campaign (see poster below) on Wednesday 23rd February at Chichester University.

This was the first public Humanist event to be held in West Sussex and was hosted by Chichester University's Atheist Humanist and Agnostic society (UCSU AHA) in association with Chichester Humanists.

Andrew Edmondson gave a brief history of the umbrella organisation West Sussex Humanists and the newly formed member group Chichester Humanists, followed by a short definition of Humanism.

Hannah Wickham, Chair of Chichester University's AHA, described the AHA and how it was felt necessary to set up an alternative group for non-religious students in this Christian university. She explained how they have close links with other student groups including the Christian Union.

Naomi began her talk by describing her various roles within the British Humanist Association (BHA). Much of her work involves meeting MPs and attending various parliamentary groups. She has been working on the Census 2011 campaign for 4 years.

Naomi explained why the Office of National Statistics (ONS) decided to include a question on religion in the 2001 Census. This was partly a way of counting the number of Sikhs and Jews; these are not included in other questions on ethnicity for some stange reason.

She referred to a lengthy document produced by the ONS on how they arrived at the single question "What is your religion?", a single question apparently because of lack of space.

The ONS had to decide whether to collect data on religious belief, religious practice or religious affiliation. They decided on religious affiliation of any kind, thereby obtaining the greatest possible number of ticks against the religion boxes.

Research by the ONS showed that when people are asked "What is your religion?" they will tick a religion box for reasons other than religious belief or practice, e.g. they were baptised, their parents were religious, they were married in a church, they want to be married in a church, religion is part of their culture, they feel ticking "No religion" is too negative.

In 2001, around 72% of the population ticked the Christian box, including many non-religious people. Naomi explained that this statistic was used by national and local government to justify various policies, including:

  • more faith schools
  • continuing collective worship in state schools
  • public funding of faith based organisations
  • increased role of faith organisations in government, e.g. House of Lords, faith advisors
  • welfare services run by religious organisations
  • continued privileges for religious organisations in equality law and other law

Naomi contrasted this inflated statistic with the recent British Social Attitudes survey finding that 50.7% of the UK are non-religious.

She went on to describe the Census 2011 campaign, which is an effort to encourage  non-religious people to tick the "No religion" box. Even though religious belief and practice declines year on year, she emphasised the importance for the non-religious of ticking the "No Religion" box, rather than ignoring the question or ticking the "Other religion" box with Humanist or Jedi.

Naomi encouraged all present to support the campaign in a variety of ways, including writing to councillors and MPs, leafleting, posters and most importantly by talking to friends, family and colleagues.

An interesting question and answer session was followed by drinks and snacks.

We thanked Naomi for a most interesting and enjoyable talk. NOTE: Watch a previously recorded video of Naomi here.

If you would like to support the Census 2011 campaign, click on the banner below.

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Last Updated (Tuesday, 01 March 2011 20:24)

 

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