March 18th, 2021
If you’re not religious, say so! We’re encouraging people to tick the ‘no religion’ option on the 2021 Census. Below you can find out more about one aspect of this campaign.
Humanists UK is encouraging people to tick ‘No religion’ or ‘None’ on the Census because the results are used to justify increasing the number of faith schools, enforcing compulsory Christian worship in schools, contracting out public services to religious organisations that can discriminate against non-religious or LGBT service users, preserving 26 bishops who vote in Parliament and making even more religious-only programming on the BBC, such as Thought for the Day.
We frequently see such issues arise, particularly at the local authority level, where it can also affect the provision of pastoral care in hospitals and the makeup of the school RE curriculum.
In a Lords debate on the Census last year, Lord True, Minister of State for the Cabinet Office, confirmed that Census religion data should, in the Government’s view, be used as a basis for making such decisions, without acknowledging the long-running issues of the undercounting of the non-religious, which undermines the accuracy of the data. He said,
‘Despite being a voluntary question, the response rate on the religion question is very high—over 92%—and the ONS is confident that religion data from the census will provide high-quality data for public bodies to inform service provision and equalities monitoring.’
We will now give two some examples of the Census data being used to justify discrimination at a national level.
Compulsory collective worship in schools
First, in 2011 the Lords debated an amendment to the Government Education Bill that sought to challenge the continuing requirement for compulsory Christian worship in all state schools. During that debate, Lord Cormack used Census data to support the requirement:
‘Ours is a Christian civilisation, which has moulded so much of our literature and our art and which is, indeed, the very fabric of the soul of the nation. In the 2001 census, over 70 per cent of people in the country said that they considered themselves to be Christian, whereas fewer than 20,000 said that they were atheists. We do have a duty to expose our young people to what I consider to be the truths of the Christian religion but what we must all consider to be the bedrock of our civilisation.’
Lord Hill of Oareford, at the time the Government education minister in the Lords, supported Lord Cormack’s position. He said,
‘It is a matter of historical fact, as argued by… my noble friend Lord Cormack, that the Christian traditions of our country have influenced and underpin our systems of law, justice and democracy. It is true, as has been said, that they have inspired and supported a tolerant and inclusive culture that welcomes and celebrates diversity. In the British Household Survey of 2010, more than 70 per cent of people said that their religion was Christian, and we think it right, therefore, that these values should underpin the ethos of our schools.’
The British Household Survey in 2010 asked a similarly leading question to the Census.
Religious discrimination in employment
Second, in Northern Ireland, there is not only a question on religion but also religious background. In an Assembly debate on the Census last ear, Executive minister Declan Kearney MLA explained that the Census results are used in employment decisions:
‘The two religion questions were first included in the 2001 census following the creation of new legal obligations under the Fair Employment and Treatment Order 1998, which the Member mentioned. That legislation requires employers to establish the community background of their employees and, in turn, for that to be compared with the eligible population. The religion and community background questions, therefore, produce a composite census output based on the answers to the two religion questions that is essential for those purposes.’
Overall, Census data is used by government and local authorities to make important policy decisions. So if you’re not religiously practising or believing, the best thing to do is tick the ‘No religion’ or ‘None’ box.