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Justin Welby: disestablishment ‘a decision for parliament and the people’

In an interview with the Guardian, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has said that disestablishment of the Church of England would not be ‘a disaster’ for the Church, and is ‘a decision for parliament and the people’. He also said that ‘I don’t think [disestablishment] would make it easier [for the Church], and I don’t think it would make it more difficult’.

Humanists UK has long campaigned for disestablishment and has today welcomed the Archbishop’s comments.

Establishment means having the monarch as the head of the Church of England but it is also often used to justify the fact that 26 CofE bishops automatically sit as of right in the House of Lords, able to vote on legislation and having a dominating role to play in other areas of parliamentary life such as prayers at the start of each day (affecting the ability of humanist peers to get seats and therefore be able to speak during particularly popular debates). The UK and Iran are the only two sovereign states to have religious leaders sit as of right in their legislatures.

A 2013 opinion poll found that a majority of the public support disestablishment, with just 27% supporting establishment. A 2010 poll found 74% supporting removing the bishops from the House of Lords.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented,

‘We welcome the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments on disestablishment, a change we have long campaigned for. If the Church is not strongly opposed to disestablishment, and recognises that it is a decision for the people, then this only underlines the need for Parliament to now act to bring about this well-supported change. The first step should be to remove the bishops from the House of Lords.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on or 0781 55 89 636.

Read The Guardian’s coverage of Justin Welby’s comments:

Read more about Humanists UK’s work on constitutional reform:

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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