View from a humanist: Census faith questoin is confusing

Humanist Paul Kaufman is fighting for to change the religion question on the census.

Humanist Paul Kaufman is fighting for to change the religion question on the census. - Credit: Archant

The March 2021 census will land on our doorsteps in a short while.

It is set to include a confusing question open to misinterpretation. If used it will skew the results in favour of entrenched religious privilege.

It was announced in July that we will be asked “What is your religion?”

The same leading question was used in the last two censuses. It is based on the false presumption that we all have a religion.

It leads many people to say they have a religion when in fact they have no religious belief. They simply name the religion that is part of their cultural background even though they don’t practise it.

Evidence of the confusion was revealed by a poll at the time of the last census in 2011.

Just 29 per cent answered positively to the question ‘Are you religious?’ That is less than half the 61pc who ticked the religion box for the census question.

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The authoritative British Social Attitudes Survey, which does not ask leading questions, confirms well over half of us have no religious belief.

The census is expensive, time-consuming, and important. It helps set the country’s course for the next 10 years.

Underestimating the numbers has profound consequences and results in under provision for the non-religious. Just one example is lack of provision of non-religious pastoral care in hospitals, prisons, education and the armed services.

And consider our education system, where the religious continue to exert disproportionate influence.

Proliferation of religious schools has been encouraged by successive governments.

Is this really about meeting unmet need, or is it about serving the religious lobby who are trying to turn back the tide?

There is still an outdated requirement for a daily collective act of Christian worship. Surely what we need are inclusive assemblies which treat religious and non-religious beliefs equally?

Teaching children about religion is important. But surely teaching about non-religious beliefs like Humanism should also be on every curriculum?

Humanists UK will continue to lobby for census wording which is fit for the 21st century.

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