We need secular public spaces for community life to flourish

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has responded new government report “Church and Faith Buildings”.

Hanne Stinson, BHA Chief Executive, said, ‘It appears from this report that the Church is using the influence of its “unique legal status as the Established Church” to exert pressure on the Government  to include it as a key partner in the provision of welfare, community and other public services – and that the Government is acceding to those demands.’

‘Despite the vast wealth of the Church and many other religious organisations, the report seeks to show how the cost of maintaining and using “church and faith buildings” can be off-loaded onto the tax payer and not rest, so it states, “on the local congregation or worshipping community”. To many people, this will represent an alarming move away from secular principles of neutrality and equal treatment on behalf of the state in matters of religion and belief.

 ‘We doubt the unquestioned assumption inherent in the report, that places of worship are suitable for shared public activities. They may be – and many such places may open their doors to activities for the whole community. But one of the key problematic effects of the Government’s focus on and promotion of religion in its social policies is the shrinking of secular public spaces, which are genuinely shared spaces for all in the community, whether they are religious or not. Vulnerable people, particularly those who have had negative experiences within religious communities, may be particularly excluded from services and activities provided from places of worship.

‘Further, it is well known there are many churches with minute congregations, or that are even unused. Rather than being shored up with public money, unless they are of real historical or architectural value could they not be deconsecrated and converted into genuine assets for the whole community?

‘Point by point this report outlines how the Government is seeking to prioritise and privilege religion and religious groups; how it intends to dedicate the time of civil servants, central and local Government and their partners to assisting the Church and other religious groups to access vast amounts of public money and other resources.

‘A more positive move would be to seek ways that the limited public money available can be targeted to the provision of shared and neutral public spaces where all can feel welcome.’

Notes

For further comment or information, contact Hanne Stinson on 020 7079 3584 or 07534 248596.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national charity representing and supporting the non-religious and campaigns for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief. It is the largest organisation in the UK working for a secular society.