Government and “faith communities”
We want the Government to recognise the value of communities as a whole and the contributions that humanists, as well as religious people, make to their communities. We want communities where people of all different backgrounds and beliefs engage and work with each other for the benefit of the whole community.
Increasingly, the Government is offering strong encouragement to religious groups to take on a role in local communities and to local government to welcome such religious groups as “partners”. Insofar as these arrangements are no more than what would be offered to any local group with strong links with the local community, such moves may be acceptable.
However, there is strong evidence to suggest that what the Government intends amounts to new privileges for religion, such as a distinct role in providing public services on behalf of the State at national, regional and local levels (see Public Service Reform). In terms of social cohesion initiatives, religious groups and communities have been singled out by Government as having a special importance and being in need of special attention and assistance, mostly in isolation from other communities and almost always to the exclusion of the non-religious – normally under the remit of ‘faith’ or ‘interfaith’ strategies.
Interfaith initiatives, by their very name and nature, are exclusive and do not involve humanists and other non-religious people in the community. In fact, most bodies which the Government promote and engage with as means of bringing people of different beliefs together are ‘interfaith’ groups and explicitly exclude the non-religious.
We believe that, rather than making a fetish of faith, social cohesion and other community initiatives must focus on the contribution that all individuals and groups in the community can make. Where there are legitimate reasons for working with communities identified by beliefs, then this must include humanists and other non-religious people, as well as religious people.
What are we doing?
The BHA is committed to working with those of other beliefs for the common good. In the 1970s, years before the foundation of bodies such as the Inter-Faith Network, we were co-founders of the Standing Council on Inter-Faith Dialogue in Education (SCIFDE) together with Jews and Christians; along with religious believers, we were also co-founders of the Social Morality Council (now the Norham Foundation), of which the BHA’s then Executive Director was chair. More recently, we were co-founders of the Religion and Belief Consultative Group and many BHA members work alongside those with different beliefs on their local SACRE.
We fully support inclusive strategies to develop social cohesion in the community and are involved in promoting social cohesion both at a strategic and a grassroots level, with efforts aimed in particular at ensuring the non-religious in the community are engaged with by government and others. We have a Local Development Project, which seeks to build the capacity of humanists and the non-religious to contribute to local authorities’ work around both ‘religion and belief’ equality issues, and projects of inter-cultural dialogue and good relations.
We have met with Department of Communities and Local Government (DLCG) Ministers, and we have secured regular meetings with DCLG officials to discuss our perspective on the government’s community strategy.
In December 2010, the BHA produced a briefing for MPs on religion, belief and volunteering.
What can you do?
Why not volunteer to be part of our Local Development Project?
You can email your MP to express your concerns over current government policy and ask them to contact the relevant Minster.
You can support the BHA by becoming a member. That helps in itself, and you can help even more by supporting our campaigns in the ways suggested above. But campaigns also cost money – quite a lot of money – and we also need financial support. You can make a donation to the BHA.