Press Release

UK NEEDS ‘NEW SETTLEMENT’ FOR RELIGION & BELIEF SAYS BUTLER-SLOSS

– Civic institutions, laws and practices need to reflect UK’s less religious, more diverse society says report

Politicians need urgently to overhaul UK public policy on religion and belief, to take account of the increasing impact of religion globally, set along side the less religious, less Christian and hugely more diverse nature of our society here in Britain. 

That is the key conclusion of Living with Difference: community, diversity and the common good, a major report published today (Monday 7th) by the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life convened by the Woolf Institute and chaired by Baroness Butler-Sloss.  Amongst the report’s most striking proposals are:

  • Representation in the House of Lords to be opened up to other faiths, offsetting the number of bishops, and the next coronation to become a pluralist
  • A reduction in the percentage of admissions on the basis of religion by faith schools
  • Re-focusing anti-terror legislation on promoting, not limiting, freedom of enquiry, speech and expression, and engagement with a wide range of affected groups
  • The creation of a new bottom-up Magna Carta-style statement of values for public life, as an alternative to the Government’s approach to defining so-called ‘fundamental British values’.

The report (#ukbelief) has been prepared by twenty of the country’s leading religious and academic thinkers from every major religious tradition, including bishops, a Rabbi and Imam, as well as by the Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association.  Two years in the making, the Commission has received over 200 written and oral submissions of evidence from across religious and ethical traditions.

Commission Chair, Baroness Butler-Sloss GBE, the first woman President of the Family Division, says:

“From recent events in France, to the schools so many of our children attend and even the adverts screened in cinemas, for good and ill religion and belief impacts directly on all our daily lives.  The proposals in this report amount to a ‘new settlement for religion and belief in the UK’, intended to provide space and a role for all within society, regardless of their beliefs or absence of them.”

Dr Ed Kessler MBE, CORAB Vice-Chair and Director of the Cambridge-based Woolf Institute, which specialises in the study of Christian, Jewish and Muslim relations, argues that:

“Society has changed beyond all recognition in two generations, but policy making in this area has been piecemeal and haphazard.  Public policy needs, as a matter of urgency, to be overhauled to be much more pluralistic and much more welcoming of difference.”

The report calls for much greater religion and belief literacy in every section of society, especially in the media, saying that the potential for misunderstanding, stereotyping and oversimplification based on ignorance is huge. It says the legal requirement for schools to hold acts of collective worship should be repealed and that the BBC’s Charter should be extended to reflect the range of religion and belief of modern society.  It asks the Ministry of Justice to issue guidance on compliance with UK standards of gender equality and judicial independence by religious courts and says the Government should lead public opinion by challenging negative stereotyping more and by engaging with a wide range of affected groups, including those with which it disagrees.

Elsewhere, the report reveals that almost half the population today describes itself as non-religious, as compared with an eighth in England and a third in Scotland in 2001.  It says that thirty years ago two-thirds of those living in the UK would have identified as Christians while today it’s two-fifths, and that fifty years ago Judaism – at one in 150 – was the largest non-Christian tradition in the UK.  Now it is fourth behind Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism.

ENDS

Notes

The report is formally launched at 10.30am at a news conference chaired by Baroness Butler-Sloss in the Atlee Suite, Portcullis House, SW1A 2LW.  For more information and to attend email ben@benrich.co.uk (07469-159134).

About the Woolf Institute

Understanding the increasing influence of religion in the world, especially the encounter between Jews, Christians and Muslims, is at the heart of the educational work of the Woolf Institute.  Founded in 1998, it is named after its Patron, Lord Woolf CH, and is recognised around the world for the excellence of its research, teaching, policy and public education programmes.

The Institute believes an understanding of the complex relationship between different faiths and cultures is vital to fostering a stable and successful society.

The Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life

Through its work with a variety of faith communities, the Woolf Institute recognises religion and belief as driving forces in society today. While in the UK, we are not about to return to the past when religion and religious authorities dominated, they nevertheless continue to be sources of controversy and dispute here, while globally religion and belief are key drivers of international relations and vital to understanding our increasingly interconnected world.

For these reasons, in September 2013 the Woolf Institute convened an independent commission to undertake over a two-year period the first systematic review of the role of religion and belief in the UK today and to make policy recommendations. Twenty commissioners from across Great Britain and Northern Ireland were appointed and they have been well supported by a hard-working secretariat.

During the two-year period, the commission – known as CORAB – has held hearings across the country and has been in receipt of over 200, often lengthy, submissions during the public consultation process.

The commissioners expect the report and its recommendations to be widely considered across the political spectrum by policy makers, government officials, think tanks, religious leaders and the wider public.

The commissioners are The Rt Hon Baroness Butler-Sloss of Marsh Green GBE (chair), Dr Edward Kessler MBE (convenor and vice-chair), Bishop Dr Joe Aldred, The Very Revd Dr Ian Bradley, Dr Shana Cohen, Andrew Copson, Shaunaka Rishi Das, Professor Gwen Griffith-Dickson, Mark Hammond, The Rt Revd Professor Lord Harries of Pentregarth, Dr Jagbir Jhutti-Johal, Professor Francesca Klug OBE, Professor Maleiha Malik, Professor Tariq Modood MBE, Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, Professor Lord Parekh of Kingston upon Hull, Brian Pearce OBE, The Revd Canon Dr Angus Ritchie, Rabbi Dr Norman Solomon, and The Revd Dr Robert Tosh.

Further information about each of the commissioners can be found at the end of the report.

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