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Nobel Laureates, campaigners, peers, philosophers, broadcasters and authors write open letter to challenge Prime Minister’s ‘Christian country’ claim

Over 50 public figures, including novelists, scientists, broadcasters, campaigners, authors and comedians have written to the Prime Minister challenging his statement on Britain as a Christian country. The letter was organised by the President of the British Humanist Association (BHA) Professor Jim Al-Khalili, theoretical physicist and science broadcaster.

Among those who have signed the letter are Philip Pullman, Ken Follett, Professor Alice Roberts and Sir Terry Pratchett.

The letter, published in the Telegraph, reads,

‘We respect the Prime Minister’s right to his religious beliefs and the fact that they affect his own life as a politician. However, we wish to object to his repeated mischaracterising of our country as a ‘Christian country’ and the negative consequences for our politics and society that this view engenders.

‘Apart from in the narrow constitutional sense that we continue to have an established church, we are not a ‘Christian country’. Repeated surveys, polls, and studies show most of us as individuals are not Christian in our beliefs or our religious identities and at a social level, Britain has been shaped for the better by many pre-Christian, non-Christian, and post-Christian forces. We are a plural society with citizens with a range of perspectives and a largely non-religious society. To constantly claim otherwise fosters alienation and division in our society.

‘Although it is right to recognise the contribution made by many Christians to social action, it is wrong to try to exceptionalise their contribution when it is equalled by British people of different beliefs. It needlessly fuels enervating sectarian debates that are by and large absent from the lives of most British people, who – as polls show – do not want religions or religious identities to be actively prioritised by their elected government.’

Jim Al-Khalili, President of the British Humanist Association, commented, ‘As people who value reason and evidence in public policy and fairness and secularism in our political life we wrote this letter as a result not just of one recent speech and article but of a disturbing trend. Politicians have been speaking of our country as “a Christian country” with increasing frequency in the last few years. Not only is this inaccurate, I think it’s a wrong thing to do in a time when we need to be building a strong shared identity in an increasingly plural and non-religious society.’

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the BHA commented ‘Any politician or government that tried to make Christianity and Christian beliefs the foundation of British values or social morality would be building on seriously unstable foundations. 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. British people certainly don’t want to see religion 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.’

Commenting on the statistical case for claiming Britain is Christian, Mr Copson continued, ‘Most people in Britain do not have Christian beliefs, do not attend any sort of church, and do not describe themselves as Christians when asked if they have a religion and if so what it is. Reliable studies like the British Social Attitudes Survey show over 60% of people in Britain never attend a religious service, 57% say they are not Christian. Other polls and surveys show over 60% don’t share core Christian beliefs like the divinity and resurrection of Jesus.

‘Even the census, (which because it asks the flawed closed question, ‘What is your religion?’, gives an inflated figure and measures cultural attachment rather than religiosity) recorded a drop in the percentage of Christians in England and Wales between 2001 and 2011 from 72% to 59% of the population. The percentage saying they had no religion, even in the face of the biased question, went up from 15% to 25%.’

Notes

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

Full list of signatories;
Professor Jim Al-Khalili, President of the BHA
Phillip Pullman, author
Dan Snow, historian and broadcaster
Tim Minchin, musician and writer
Dr Simon Singh, science writer
Ken Follett, novelist
Dr Adam Rutherford, broadcaster and science writer
Sir John Sulston FRS, Nobel Prize-winning scientist
Sir David Smith FRS FRSE, eminent botanist
Professor Jonathan Glover, philosopher
Professor Anthony Grayling, philosopher
Nick Ross, broadcaster
CJ De Mooi, actor and professional quizzer
Virginia Ironside, writer
Professor Steven Rose, scientist and writer
Natalie Haynes, comedian and writer
Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner
Professor Raymond Tallis FMedSci, physician, philosopher and author
Dr Iolo ap Gwynn FRMS, scientist and mountaineer
Stephen Volk, screenwriter and author
Professor Steve Jones, Professor of Genetics, science writer and broadcaster
Sir Terry Pratchett OBE, fantasy fiction author, satirist
Dr Evan Harris, former Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament and Vice President of the BHA
Dr Richard Bartle, Professor of Computer Game Design
Sian Berry, Green campaigner, politician and author
Professor John A Lee, consultant histopathologist and Professor of Pathology
Professor Richard Norman, philosopher
Zoe Margolis, author
Joan Smith, journalist and author
Michael Gore, CVO CBE
Derek McAuley, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches
Lorraine Barratt, former member of the Welsh Assembly
Dr Susan Blackmore, writer and broadcaster
Dr Harry Stopes-Roe, Vice President of the BHA
Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC (Hon), human rights lawyer
Adele Anderson, actor and singer
Dr Helena Cronin, co-director, Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science
Professor Alice Roberts, Professor of Public Engagement in Science, anatomist, author and broadcaster
Professor Chris French, Professor of Psychology, editor of The Skeptic
Sir Tom Blundell, scientist
Maureen Duffy, poet, playwright and novelist
Baroness Whitaker, Labour peer
Lord Avebury, Liberal Democrat peer
Richard Herring, writer and comedian
Martin Rowson, writer and cartoonist
Tony Hawks, comedian, writer, musician and philanthropist
Peter Cave, philosopher and author
Diane Munday, campaigner
Professor Norman MacLean, Emeritus Professor of Genetics, biologist
Sir Harold Kroto FRS, Nobel Prize winner, Professor of Chemistry
Sir Richard Dalton, former diplomat
Sir David Blatherwick, KCMG, OBE, diplomat and writer
Michael Rubenstein, writer and legal expert
Polly Toynbee, columnist and broadcaster
Lord O’Neill, Labour peer
Warren Lakin, entertainment producer and writer
Sir Jonathan Miller CBE, theatre and opera director, broadcaster and sculptor
Nicci Gerrard, novelist
David Nobbs, comedy writer and novelist
Robin Ince, stand-up comedian, writer and actor
Professor Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and writer

Read the Prime Minister’s full statement here http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2014/17-april/comment/opinion/my-faith-in-the-church-of-england

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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