British Humanists have launched a nationwide campaign to overcome the massive undercounting of the non-religious population in the national census. “The Census Campaign” has been launched today by the British Humanist Association (BHA), calling on people who are not religious, including atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and “cultural Christians”, to be counted and included in the 2011 UK census by ticking the “No religion” response box.
Under the banner, “If you’re not religious, for God’s sake say so!”, the campaign has been launched exactly five months ahead of the next census in England and Wales, which takes place on 27 March 2011. It seeks to raise awareness of the damage that can be done by the undercounting of the non-religious in the census.
The BHA has said that the previous census in 2001 in England and Wales – the first to ask a question on religion – produced inaccurate and misleading data on religion, grossly undercounting the number of non-religious people and greatly inflating the number of Christians.
Following a preview to supporters of the British Humanist Association, the Census Campaign’s fundraising appeal had already raised nearly 50% of its first target by the day of the official launch. Funds raised through www.justgiving.com/census will support a national advertising campaign aimed at public awareness carrying the slogan “If you’re not religious for God’s sake say so”.
Announcing the new campaign, BHA chief executive Andrew Copson said, “There were more Jedis than Jews counted in the 2001 census, but just as inaccurate a result was the conclusion that 77% of us are religious and only 15% of us are not. These misleading statistics are used to support policies that entrench religious privilege and increase discrimination on grounds of religion in our society and it is vital that the 2011 census results in accurate data for that reason alone.
“The flawed wording and the positioning of the religion question in the Census in the context of ethnicity encourages people to respond as if they have a religion, and especially over-inflates the “Christian” category. People are counted as Christians who may never have been in a church, who don’t believe in god and who, if asked, ‘Do you have a religion?’ would say, ‘No’.
“That would be fine if policy-makers accepted that the results from the census are merely an indicator of broad cultural affiliation. But what people do not realise is that by ticking the ‘Christian’ box rather than the ‘No religion’ box – which would more accurately reflect their identity – they have contributed to data used to justify an increase in the number of ‘faith’ schools, the public funding of religious groups, keeping Bishops in the House of Lords as of right, and the continuation of compulsory worship in schools. The flawed census data on religion is used to justify these and a whole host of other such policies that are damaging, divisive and, importantly, do not reflect the real demographics of our society.
“2011 may be the last census and so it is more important than ever to make sure that the data it produces on religion is as accurate as possible. We want everybody to be talking about this and encouraging others to tick ‘No religion’ when they fill in the census, and we’ll be supporting people to do this in different ways as the campaign proceeds over the next five months.”
Census expert David Voas, professor of population studies at the University of Manchester, explained the need for the BHA campaign: “We have good data from sample surveys about the amount of religion and non-religion in the country, but the census receives far more attention. In 2001 people tended to treat the census question on religion as a question about ethnic heritage. Their answers were interpreted very differently, though, by churches, journalists and policy-makers. Which box you tick on the census form may seem trivial, but the results do make a difference in public life.”
The Census Campaign was launched with a new, interactive website www.census-campaign.org.uk, and with a Facebook page www.facebook.com/censuscampaign as well as appearing on Twitter www.twitter.com/censuscampaign. The Census Campaign website sets out the key arguments why people who are non-religious should respond to the voluntary question on religion, and why many of those who responded as Christians in 2001, so-called ‘cultural Christians’, should respond by ticking ‘No religion’ in 2011. It also provides downloadable materials and suggestions for ways that people can become involved in their local areas.
The Census Campaign website, with links to social media and fundraising sites, is at www.census-campaign.org.uk
Other surveys on religion or belief:
The British Social Attitudes Survey 2010. www.natcen.ac.uk/study/british-social-attitudes-26th-report
An Ipsos Mori Poll 2007 showed that 36% of people – equivalent to around 17 million adults – are in fact humanist in their basic outlook. www.communities.gov.uk/documents/communities/pdf/863680.pdf
In the 2007-08 Citizenship Survey, participants were requested to select factors that they regarded as important to their identity from thirteen options. Whilst family was top with 97%, followed by interests (87%), religion ranked bottom at 48%. www.communities.gov.uk/documents/communities/pdf/863680.pdf
In a 2006 Guardian/ICM poll 63% of people say they are not religious: www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2006/dec/23/religion.topstories3
For more surveys on figures on belief in the UK, see www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-belief-surveys-statistics