Sunday, November 30, 2014

British Lords Discuss Religion In Public Life

In Britain on Thursday, the House of Lords, after a lengthy debate (full text), passed a motion reading: "this House takes note of the role of religion and belief in British public life."  While the motion seems unremarkable, the Lords' debate on it (to read full debate, click on "Next Section" at bottom of each page of text) sheds interesting light on religion and politics in Britain.  The motion was put forward by Lord Richard Harries of Pentregarth, a retired bishop of the Church of England. Here is part of his lengthy remarks on the resolution:
In the 2011 census there was a voluntary question about religion. This revealed the presence of 33.2 million Christians—59% of the country, down from 72% in 2001.... At the same time, the Muslim presence was revealed as 2.7 million—4.8% of the population, up from 3% in 2001. Other religions also showed an increase. Hindus were up to 1.5% of the population and Sikhs up to 0.8%—the same figure as for a combination of all other religions, except for Judaism, which remained static on 0.5%
No less significant was the number of people who said that they had no religion—14.1 million or 25.1% of the population, up from 14.8% in 2001, making it the second largest category after Christianity. To this might be added the large number of people who prefer to define themselves as spiritual, rather than religious....
However, it is not just the presence of non-Christian religions and those who profess no religion that has made the difference. It is that religion is visible and agitative in a way that it was not before. It has a voice, or rather a variety of voices that want to be heard in the public sphere. They are not content to have religion confined to the inward and personal dimension. So it is, for example, that issues concerning the wearing of the cross and employment practices have found their way to the European Court of Human Rights, and there have been major issues concerning religion in schools, as we know.
In short, whether one likes it or not, religion is now a major player on the public stage in a way that could not have been envisaged perhaps even 30 years ago.
[Thanks to Law & Religion UK for the lead.]