The Resident Census 2011 Article March 2011


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For God’s sake or not, tell the truth

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14 March, 2011

If you’re not religious, it is important to say so in the 2011 Census, writes Andrew Edmondson of West Sussex Humanists.

One of the questions – “what is your religion?” – is proving controversial. How people answer this question will determine national and local funding of religious organisations and their importance in public life.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) agrees that the question is leading. Its stated intention is to get people to tick a religion box if they have had any religious affiliation whatsoever – even if they have no religious belief and do not practice a religion. No surprise then that 72 per cent of people ticked the Christian box in the 2001 Census, even though the more sophisticated British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey now shows that the majority (50.7 per cent) are non-religious.

So why did millions of non-religious people tick a religion box? For a variety of reasons – they were baptised, their parents were religious, they were married in a church, they want to get married in a church, religion is part of their culture, it’s too negative to say they don’t have a religion, patriotism etc.

As a direct result, we now have:

- More faith schools

- Continuing collective worship in state schools – the most unpopular law in the country, according to national public consultation last year

- Biased religious education in state schools

- More welfare services run by religious organisations

- More religious discrimination by religious organisations

- Unelected religious leaders making laws in House of Lords

- More religious influence in politics and local affairs

- More privileges for religious organisations at taxpayers’ expense

All this despite the year-on-year decline of religious practice and belief in this country.

Only seven per cent of people regularly attend church. Also, 23 per cent of people describing themselves as Muslims are non-practising. So are 32 per cent of Sikhs and 47 per cent of Jews, partly because Sikh and Jew are defined as races as well as being religions. The only way these people can record their ethnicity is by ticking a religious box.

The BSA survey asked more sophisticated questions: “Do you regard yourself as belonging to a particular religion? If yes, which?”, “In what religion, if any, were you brought up?”, “Apart from such special occasions as weddings, funerals and baptisms, how often nowadays do you attend services or meetings connected with your religion?”

Despite years of research involving tens of thousands of people, the greatest minds of the ONS arrived at the worst possible question imaginable. They even published a 57-page document on how they did it. This is a catalogue of excuses and makes one wonder if they were subject to outside influences.

Last week, Naomi Phillips, head of public affairs for the British Humanist Society (BHA), gave a talk at Chichester University. She explained how the 2001 Census statistics led to the government giving increased power to religious organisations, despite the annual decline in religious belief and practice.

And this is set to get much worse under the new government. They are already planning a sharp increase in faith schools and religiously run academies – 70 per cent of recently approved free schools will be run by religious organisations. All major independent surveys show that the great majority of the public don’t want this.

The Big Society will push more welfare services into the hands of religious organisations which, under current law, can discriminate against the non-religious. Most people want to keep welfare services secular and open to all.

Will a non-religious person want to attend a locally funded counselling service run by a religious organisation? Will a lesbian Muslim feel comfortable using a local service provided by a mosque? How comfortable will a gay person feel about being placed in a care home run by a religious organisation?

West Sussex Humanists, the regional umbrella organisation for local Humanist groups, is supporting the BHA’s Census 2011 Campaign. Members have been putting up posters and delivering leaflets across the county.

All non-religious residents should tick the No Religion box. Some people are boycotting the Census or stating their religion as Jedi, but non-religious people should not waste their ‘vote’.

What can you do to help the campaign? Tell everyone, because the Census involves everyone. Discuss the issues with friends and colleagues. And, most importantly, think before you tick.

Horsham Humanists meet at 8pm on the first Wednesday of the month at the B52s pub in Piries Place. They meet socially to discuss topics and hold regular talks, including the next one from AbortionRightsUK. To find out more about this new group and the Census campaign, visit


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