Public square is a space to be shared

The “Big Society” should include people of all different backgrounds and beliefs, the BHA has said today, commenting on further statements by the government on the value of “faith” in public life. Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities, spoke at a meeting attended by “faith leaders” including the Chief Rabbi and the Archbishop of Canterbury, where he announced ‘The days of the state trying to suppress Christianity and other faiths are over’.

Pepper Harow, BHA Campaigns Officer, commented, ‘It is of some concern that the government has again chosen to focus on “faith groups” in its vision for the “Big Society”, with no mention of the contribution of non-religious people to local communities and wider society. There is a myth that religious individuals volunteer more, give more to charity and are more active in local communities but that is simply not the case. We know that non-religious people are hugely active in equality work, education, community development and many other areas.’

‘To suggest that Christianity and other religions were somehow sidelined or suppressed by the last government is ridiculous. Aside from the continuing privileges in law for religious groups and individuals, religious organisations received millions of pounds in public money and the Communities and Local Government Department gained a dedicated “Faiths Directorate.” Their policy encouraged religious groups to run public services and the government spent a huge budget on “interfaith week.” This is a policy that we would not like the coalition government to pursue itself. Only by recognising the contribution to civil society of the voluntary sector as a whole can the “Big Society” agenda be truly inclusive.’

Notes

‘Ministers talk Big Society with Faith leaders’ – Department for Communities and Local Government news item, 19 July 2010

The BHA is the national charity representing the interests of the large and growing population of ethically concerned non-religious people living in the UK. It exists to support and represent people who seek to live good lives without religious or superstitious beliefs and to promote Humanism. Founded in 1896, we have 20,000 members and supporters, 90 affiliated local groups and a network of around 300 trained celebrants conducted funerals and other non-religious ceremonies attended by around 250,000 people each year.