The British Humanist Association (BHA) is confident that its Census Campaign has successfully communicated the negative impact misleading census data has; and hopes that, this time, the census will provide a more reliable picture of the nation’s religiosity.
Over the past six months the BHA has run a series of national and local promotions to encourage non-religious people to tick the ‘No Religion’ box on the census form, and to raise awareness of the damaging effect on government policy-making and resource allocation that inaccurate figures from the previous census has had.
As a result of the campaign there has been a surge of grass roots support with local groups and activists volunteering to give out or display over 100,000 leaflets and posters. Hundreds of donations have been given to support campaign activities, influential public figures have given time and commitment to the cause and there has been a continuous stream of national and regional media coverage. Local campaigns, such as those funding a banner above the streets of Farnham and advertising in Stockport have also sprung up independent of the BHA.
BHA chief executive, Andrew Copson, believes that their efforts have already made a difference. ‘We are confident that this campaign has raised awareness of the many important uses to which census data on religion is put, and the many reasons to take this question seriously. We will not know the results of the census until next year,’ he said, ‘but, we hope that our campaign will have helped to make that data more reliable.’
The Census Campaign was launched in October last year under the banner ‘If you’re not religious, for God’s sake say so!’. However, a poster campaign in March this year was almost thwarted following advice from the Committee of Advertising Practice that this slogan had the potential to cause ‘widespread’ and ‘serious’ offence. Despite this, the original posters eventually appeared on billboards and in shopping centres and a revised version was displayed on buses throughout the country.
The BHA argue that the question asked on the census, ‘What is your religion?’, is inherently leading; and because of this measures cultural affiliation rather than solely religious belief. However, results from the religion question on the last census have have been repeatedly misused as a proxy for religious belief and identity to justify increases in funding for state maintained faith schools, the maintenance of unelected Bishops in the House of Lords, and supporting religious organisations with state funds. Since 2001, many major surveys asking more nuanced questions have demonstrated that the figure for the non-religious is dramatically higher.
A professional survey commissioned earlier this month by the BHA provided fresh evidence that the census question is fatally flawed for its intended purpose of planning public services.
When asked the census question ‘What is your religion?’, 61% of people in England and Wales ticked a religious box, but when asked ‘Are you religious?’ only 29% said ‘Yes’, confirming that religion is generally perceived as a cultural identity and that over half of those whom the census would count as having a religion said they were not religious. The survey also revealed that only 48% of those who ticked the Christian box in response to the census style question believed that Jesus was a real person who was the son of God and rose from the dead.
Print-quality images of the prohibited railway posters and a bus displaying the adverts that appeared can be downloaded at humanism.org.uk/census-adverts.
In the poll in England and Wales, total sample size was 1896 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 9-11 March 2011. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all English and Welsh adults (aged 18+). The England and Wales poll asked four questions: ‘What is your religion? (This question is optional)’; ‘Are you religious?’; those that answered ‘Christian’ in the first question were asked ‘Do you believe that Jesus Christ was a real person who died and came back to life, and was the son of God?’; and ‘Other than ceremonies involving family and friends, to which you were invited (e.g. weddings, baptisms, etc.), approximately when did you last attend a place of worship for religious reasons?’.
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.
The British Humanist Association is the national charity representing and supporting the interests of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.