‘If you’re not religious, say so!’ Shropshire Humanists backs campaign asking people to tick ‘No religion’ on Census

‘If you’re not religious, say so!’ Shropshire Humanists backs campaign asking people to tick ‘No religion’ on Census

‘If you’re not religious, say so!’ – that is the simple request of a campaign being launched today by Humanists UK and supported by Shropshire Humanists, encouraging people who are not in any meaningful sense religious to tick the ‘No religion’ box on the 2021 Census. Shropshire Humanists is supporting the campaign because the biased and leading nature of the Census question (‘What is your religion?’) has in the past caused many people who don’t believe in or practise a religion to nonetheless tick a religion box by default. In 2011 the consequence was that, compared with more accurate surveys, the number of non-religious people was cut in half.

In West Midlands Region, the non-religious make up 49.3% of the population according to the British Social Attitudes survey (BSAS), which is the most extensive annual survey of the UK public, compared to only 22% in the Census. Across Britain as a whole, BSAS shows that the non-religious make up 52% of the population, but this is not reflected in the 2011 Census data which records only 25%.

This matters because Census results are used by the government and local authorities to make important policy decisions. These include how to allocate funding to state services such as education, health, social care, and pastoral care. The continuing requirement for compulsory Christian worship in state schools is justified based on the Census results, as is the ever-increasing number of state faith schools, and aspects of our constitutional settlement like, for example, the ongoing presence of 26 bishops voting in Parliament.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘Our message is simple: if you don’t believe in or practise any religion and don’t want to be counted as if you do, then you should tick the “No religion” box in this year’s Census. You may be ticking a religious box out of cultural sympathy or family history, but the effect is that you will count as religious in policymakers’ eyes. The best way to make clear that this is wrong is by everyone who is not religious in any meaningful sense ticking the “No religion” box this year.’

Shropshire Humanists Chair, Dr Simon Nightingale, commented,

I am a “cultural” Christian and love churches, cathedrals and religions music, but I do not believe the Christian doctrine and don’t feel I belong to any religion. So I will tick “NO RELIGION”.   And this is VERY IMPORTANT because the false impression that most people are religious has caused the non-religious to be under-represented in government decision-making. It is essential that we do not allow this to continue for another next ten years. So if you’re not religious, say so!’

The leading nature of the question

The Office of National Statistics (ONS), which runs the Census, itself acknowledges that the question captures what it terms ‘weak affiliation’, which ‘includes those whose practising habits vary from none to frequent. This ranges from those who actively practice a religion to individuals who chose to declare an affiliation with a particular religion based on being christened or baptised, being married or wanting to get married in a church and wanting their children to be raised in a particular faith.’ ONS research also suggests that some people tick Christian simply because that was the religion they were brought up in – regardless of present beliefs or practices.

Through engagement running up to the Census, Humanists UK argued that this measure is not the most appropriate for decision-makers, where measures of religiosity based on belief or practice would be better as those correlate much more strongly with people’s service needs. However, the ONS rebuffed these efforts, largely based on the argument that statisticians would want the result to be comparable to the 2001 and 2011 Censuses. However, the ONS has now acknowledged that in ‘the 2021 Census topic consultation… there was… evidence of demand for data covering religious beliefs and practices. [We] plan to conduct an implementation review of the religion principle to identify how it is being used across government. The outcome of this review will inform future work in this area, which may include additional questions to measure concepts such as belief and practice.’


For further comment or information, please contact Shropshire Humanists Chair, Dr Simon Nightingale, at [email protected] or phone  07970 479 185. Alternatively  contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at [email protected] or phone 020 7324 3072.

Visit the website of the 2021 Census campaign.https://humanism.org.uk/census-2021/

Shropshire Humanists hold regular events to discuss important issue as well as social events.  We are involved in local social activism, sometimes jointly with religious organizations. We have an extensive library on Humanism, theology and philosophy. Our members include: Humanist wedding and funeral celebrants, Non-religious Pastoral Carers (e.g. Humanist Chaplains), School Visitors to assist with inclusive RE. We are much involved with interfaith dialogue and, for example, we are an inclusive organization and welcome all to our meetings, with faith or without.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.