Britain is no longer a Christian country and should stop acting as if it is, a major inquiry into the place of religion in modern society has concluded, provoking a furious backlash from ministers and the Church of England.
UK Telegraph A two-year commission, chaired by the former senior judge Baroness Butler-Sloss and involving leading religious leaders from all faiths, calls for public life in Britain to be systematically de-Christianised.
It says that the decline of churchgoing and the rise of Islam and other faiths mean a “new settlement” is needed for religion in the UK, giving more official influence to non-religious voices and those of non-Christian faiths.
The report provoked a furious row as it was condemned by Cabinet ministers as “seriously misguided” and the Church of England said it appeared to have been “hijacked” by humanists. The report, by the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life, claims that faith schools are “socially divisive” and says that the selection of children on the basis of their beliefs should be phased out.
It also accuses those who devise some RE syllabuses of “sanitizing” negative aspects of religion in lessons and suggests that the compulsory daily act of worship in school assemblies should be abolished and replaced with a “time for reflection”.
The report backs moves cut the number of Church of England bishops in the Lords and give places to imams and other non-other non-Christian clerics as well as evangelical pastors.
Meanwhile the coronation service for the next monarch should be overhauled to include other faiths, the report adds. Controversially, it also calls for a rethink of anti-terror policy, including ensuring students can voice radical Islamic views on campus without fear of being reported to the security services.
And it also recommends new protections for women in Sharia courts and other religious tribunals – including a call for the Government to consider requiring couples who have a non-legally binding religious marriage also to have a civil registration.
It also suggests that Thought of the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme should include non-religious messages.
The Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life has attracted particular controversy because of the seniority of those behind it. Its patrons include Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Woolf, the former chief justice, and Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the former general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain.
While gathering evidence the commissioners met key players including Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury; Ephraim Mirvis, the Chief Rabbi; the Home Secretary Theresa May, and senior executives at the BBC and Channel 4.
The Church of England said the report was a “sad waste” and had “fallen captive to liberal rationalism”.
A spokeswoman for the Church of England said: “The report is dominated by the old fashioned view that traditional religion is declining in importance and that non-adherence to a religion is the same as humanism or secularism.”
The report highlights figures showing the decline in people who say they are Anglicans from 40 per cent in 1983 to less than a fifth in 2013. It says: “Three striking trends in recent decades have revolutionised the landscape on which religion and belief in Britain meet and interact.
“The first is the increase in the number of people with non-religious beliefs and identities. The second is the decline in Christian affiliation, belief and practice and within this decline a shift in Christian affiliation that has meant that Anglicans no longer comprise a majority of Christians.
“The third is the increase in the number of people who have a religious affiliation (Islam) but who are not Christian.”
Its central recommendation is for a national consultation exercise to draw up a 21st Century equivalent to the Magna Carta to define the values at the heart of modern Britain instead of the Government’s controversial “British values” requirements.
The 150-page report sets out a major shift away from Christianity in Britain – particularly the Church of England. At the same time it highlights the growth of non-Christian faiths, especially Islam, and an explosion in the number of newer Pentecostal and evangelical Churches outside of the traditional denominations.