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Eric Pickles’ comical intervention conceals tragically mistaken view of ‘Christian Britain’

In yet another comical intervention on the subject, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (CLG) Eric Pickles MP has insisted that Britain is a ‘Christian nation’ and stated that ‘militant atheists’ should ‘get over’ the fact. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has responded that Mr Pickles’s remarks are ‘simply untrue’ and another example of the wilful misrepresentation of the demography of modern Britain at the highest levels of government.

Addressing the Conservative Spring Forum in London, Pickles called for atheists to stop imposing ‘politically correct intolerance on others.’ He went on to claim that he had ‘stopped an attempt by militant atheists to ban councils having prayers at the start of meetings if they wish’ (a reference to the government’s defence of allowing councils to make prayers compulsory for elected councillors).

In 2012 Pickles stated that ‘a Christian ethos strengthens our nation.’ Prior to that he suggested that the Christian faith is being disowned because of a ‘twisted tolerance’ of minority communities.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘The Minister’s views are deeply misguided and he is simply incorrect – only a minority of people in Britain are practising Christians and over half of the population sees itself as non-religious according to repeated surveys. Although Christianity has undoubtedly had an influence on the cultural and social development of Britain, it is far from being the only influence. Many pre-Christian, non-Christian, and post-Christian forces have shaped our society for the better and Christianity has often had ill effects. So, on a purely factual level Eric Pickles remarks are simply untrue.’

‘His comical misrepresentation of reality conceals a tragic public policy error. Any politician or government that tried to make Christianity and Christian beliefs the foundation of British values or a social morality would be building on seriously unstable foundations. All the evidence is that religion makes no difference in terms of a person’s social and moral behaviour – the same percentage of religious as non-religious people do volunteer work, for example. And people certainly don’t want to see it have more influence in government – in a 2006 Ipsos MORI poll, “religious groups and leaders” actually topped the list of domestic groups that people said had too much influence on government.

‘His remarks are deeply concerning for anyone who values reason and evidence in public policy and fairness and secularism in our political life.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Andrew Copson, Chief Executive at andrew@humanism.org.uk or on 07855 380 633 or Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at pavan@humanism.org.uk or on 0773 843 5059.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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