Is there enough room in the Big Society for the non-religious?

David Cameron has re-launched the government’s Big Society programme calling for the ‘creation of a country that feels like a community’, however, following reports that David Cameron credited Jesus Christ as being a founder of the Big Society(!), is this community a religious one?  

The Prime Minister is not the first member of his government to make claims on the importance of religion to the Big Society; Liberal Democrat Andrew Stunell MP, Under Secretary of State at the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has made repeated claims that faith-groups are ‘integral to creating the Big Society’, and a ‘key plank of the Big Society vision’.

Cabinet Member Baroness Sayeeda Warsi has argued ‘Faith communities have to play an intrinsic part in the vision for a big society, and the Secretary of State at the DCLG, Eric Pickles, has made equally strident claims over the importance of religion, commenting on the previous Government’s record by saying ‘The days of the state trying to suppress Christianity and other faiths are over’, failing to recognise the irony of the fact his Labour predecessor had appointed 13 faith advisers to the department he took over, and had provided funds for faith groups to lobby the government.

We intend to write to David Cameron about our vision of the Big Society to express our concerns over the emphasis on faith as a part of the Big Society, and to clearly explain the BHA’s view of the pitfalls of attempting to engage with society as if every member falls into a limited number of neatly confined ‘faith groups’.

Community projects should involve people of all different backgrounds and beliefs, and engage and work with each other for the benefit of the whole community. We strongly believe that an attempt to engage with groups on their perceived religious identity, rather than as individuals, is a flawed approach likely to deepen divisions and tensions in society.   

The BHA formally submitted evidence to parliament on the Big Society and the wider localism strategy.  

We now intend to contact the Prime Minister directly. What role is there for the non-religious? Has the frequent discussion of ‘faith’ impacted your impression of the government’s agenda and any plans to get involved?

Let us know what you think!

Read our dedicated campaign pages and let us know your thoughts, and we will let the Prime Minister know your reaction.  

For further comment or information contact Naomi Phillips at [email protected] or 020 7079 3585.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf 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.