The Church of England's position as the established church with the Queen as Supreme Governor is "no longer tenable" and needs a rethink, according to a report today.
As churchgoing and belief in God continues to decline, the public
role of religion in Britain needs "significant reform" says the new report from the National Secular Society.
Its main demand is that the Church of England should no longer enjoy the patronage of the state.
The report notes that the Church of England is established only in
England, not Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
The Church of Scotland
is the national church in Scotland but has few privileges comparable to
those of the Church of England.
"One of the greatest privileges of the Church of England is the 26
bishops from English dioceses with ex officio seats in the UK
Parliament, which gives them significant power to introduce and amend
UK-wide legislation," the report says. "The UK parliament is the only
one in the world where bishops have such seats.
significant privileges include the Church's currently pre-eminent role
in national ceremonies, especially the coronation, and the monarch being
the Supreme Governor of the Church, over whose liturgy and regulation
Parliament has nominal control."
The National Secular Society says this privileged status fails to
reflect society as it is today and leads to inequity and unfairness.
The secularists also call for a moratorium on all new faith schools.
"The time has come to separate church and state in order to ensure
equality and fairness for believers and non-believers alike," said the
Rethinking religion and belief in public life, which is
being sent this week to all MPs, calls for Britain to "evolve" into a
secular democracy with a clear separation between religion and state.
It says the current multi-faith approach is "at odds with the increasing religious indifference" in Britain.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said:
"Vast swathes of the population are simply not interested in religion,
it doesn't play a part in their lives, but the state refuses to
"Britain is now one of the most religiously diverse and, at the same
time, non-religious nations in the world. Rather than burying its head
in the sand, the state needs to respond to these fundamental cultural
"Our report sets out constructive and specific proposals to
fundamentally reform the role of religion in public life to ensure that
every citizen can be treated fairly and valued equally, irrespective of
their religious outlook."
The report also warns that the rise of so called 'sharia courts'
risks undermining the legal system. Allowing groups to opt-out of the
state legal system in favour of a religious alternative "strikes at the
heart of citizenship and a cohesive society", it says.
The report also urges politicians to refrain from describing Britain as a "Christian country".
"Any approach which seeks to label the values widely shared by UK
citizens as exclusively 'Christian' is doomed to be out of touch with
the views and lifestyles of the population", it states.
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain of Maidenhead Synagogue said: "It may be
true that more people in Britain are now secular rather than religious,
but the report dismisses too easily the fact that the country is still
based on Christian culture and Christian values.
"It also glosses over the fact that the Church of England has been
very accomodating to other faiths and stepped back to make room for them
in the national life. While this may undermine the NSS's assertions
about the disproportionate role of faith in Britain, some of the
recommendations still deserve attention.
"Publicly funded faith schools have become agents of segregation and
should no longer be allowed to discriminate in pupil admissions or
teacher employment. The role of Sharia Councils should be reviewed to
ensure that individual freedoms are not denied. A Humanist should be
allowed to contribute to the BBC's Thought for the Day. Expansive
demands such as Disestablishment are an ask-too-far, but some gentle
nudges are needed to keep faith tolerant."