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Remembrance ceremonies

A wreath laid in Sheffield by Defence Humanists and Sheffield Humanist Society.

We campaign for public ceremonies to be equally inclusive of those of all faiths and none. A particularly prominent example of a ceremony that is not inclusive is the annual Remembrance Ceremony at the Cenotaph in Westminster, where a number of religious representatives are included in proceedings but a humanist representative is not. Here and elsewhere in the UK, we and Defence Humanists believe this should change, and we have been working for this through the For All Who Serve campaign.

In depth

For decades we have been speaking out in support of an inclusive Remembrance Ceremony, but our efforts have intensified since the establishment of Defence Humanists in 2010. We have worked with them through the annual For All Who Serve campaign to advocate for inclusion of a humanist representative at the National Remembrance Day Ceremony at the Cenotaph in Whitehall.

Figures from April 2015 indicate that over 20% of serving members of the Armed Forces described themselves as having ‘no religion’ – the largest group after Christianity, which has seen continuous decline since records began. The non-religious number more than ten times all the non-Christian religions combined, including Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and Buddhists.

The membership of Defence Humanists alone is larger than the number of Sikh and Jewish members of the forces – but both Sikhs and Jews do have official representation, while Defence Humanists do not.

We have not only been working in Westminster to see representation, but also in other towns and cities across the UK, in partnership with local humanist and Royal British Legion groups. Here we have seen much more openness to inclusion.

What we’re doing

For several years now, we and Defence Humanists have been asking the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, the Royal Household, and the Royal British Legion for the addition of humanist representation at the Cenotaph. We have been doing so through the annual For All Who Serve campaign, in partnership with Humanists UK/Defence Humanists patron Dan Snow.

In 2010 we were pleased when for the first time it was decided that humanist representatives would be able to lay wreaths in Edinburgh and Belfast; but our request for participation in Whitehall was rejected on the grounds of ‘limited space at the Cenotaph’ and a need to receive permission from the Royal Household. Our request was again rejected in 2011. In 2012 we launched the For All Who Serve campaign with Defence Humanists, in order to amplify our call, and the family of Major Sidney Excell, the committed humanist who arrested Heimlich Himmler, spoke out in support. In 2013 we worked with Dan Snow to raise the issue and together we have continued to speak out since and put pressure on the responsible bodies. And in 2015, the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life – of which our Chief Executive was a Commissioner – recommended that ‘The pluralist character of modern society should be reflected in national and civic events so that they are more reflective of the UK’s increasing diversity’.

In the meantime Defence Humanists have also taken part in a number of other remembrance ceremonies – both those on Remembrance Sunday, and others like the International Day of UN Peacekeepers, International Conscientious Objector’s Day, World Humanitarian Day, and at national remembrance ceremonies in Belgium, supported by the Belgian Government.

Get involved

You can get involved with the For All Who Serve Remembrance campaign by writing to your MP, or working with your local humanist group to participate in your local Remembrance ceremony.

You can also support Humanists UK by becoming a member. That helps in itself, and you can help even more by supporting our campaigns in the ways suggested above. But campaigns also cost money – quite a lot of money – and we also need financial support. You can make a donation to Humanists UK.

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