Faith in Public Life commission advocates an ‘Anglican-plus’ policy
Posted: 07 Dec 2015 @ 05:11 – PA
IMAMS and rabbis in the House of Lords, non-Anglican representation at the next coronation ceremony, abolishing the requirement for schools to hold an act of worship, less selection of pupils by religion for faith schools, and humanists on Thought for the Day are among the recommendations in a new report on religion in public life, published on Monday.
The 104-page document, Living with difference: community, diversity and the common good, contains dozens of recommendations, and suggests a far-reaching overhaul of British institutions and culture, from the BBC to counter-terrorism strategy, to ensure that the diversity of religious belief present in the UK is properly represented.
The report is the fruit of two years’ work by the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, which was set up by the interfaith Woolf Institute. It has heard more than 200 submissions since summer last year (News, 27 June 2014).
The Commission was chaired by Baroness Butler-Sloss, a former High Court judge, and included Lord Harries of Pentregarth, the former Bishop of Oxford, as well as clerics, academics, and representatives from all the major faiths in the UK.
As well as introducing more non-Anglicans into public institutions and life, the report also calls for “much greater religion and belief literacy” in “every section of society” and for the Ministry of Justice to ensure religious courts abide by British law on gender equality.
A spokesman from the Church of England said that the Church welcomed those recommendations on improving religious literacy and the recognition of the role it played in relaying “non-Christian perspectives” to the public square.
But “we are, however, disappointed that the report misunderstands the role of Church of England schools in providing a rounded education to more than a million pupils from all backgrounds,” the spokesman said.
In a blog, the C of E’s Chief Education Officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, criticised the report’s comments on faith schools. He said that the faith ethos of C of E schools was eagerly sought after by parents, which was why they were “vastly over-subscribed”.
The current law requiring collective worship in schools was working well, and removing it would only tempt some schools to abandon the “vital element” of an opportunity to pause and reflect, he also said.
Speaking at the launch of Living with difference at Portcullis House, Westminster, on Monday, Baroness Butler-Sloss said that the fact her report had been attacked by both the Church of England and the National Secular Society — who have described it as “wholly misguided” — suggested they had got the balance about right.
“We live in an increasingly plural and diverse society,” she said. “We need a new settlement to overhaul UK public life.” Another member of the Commission, Professor Tariq Modood, cited surveys that suggested that those considering themselves to be Christian had fallen from two-in-three 30 years ago, to just two-in-five today.
Although the Commission had been drawn from a wide variety of faiths, Baroness Butler-Sloss said that they had all agreed on the way forward — which she described as not minimising Christianity’s place in British public life, but adding to it with other faith traditions.
Lord Harries said: “We wanted to create a British narrative in which people of all religions and none could feel truly at home.” He said public events, such as coronation ceremonies, should seek to be as “all-embracing as possible”, with plenty of non-Christians represented.
“We want a crowded marketplace in which all traditions make their voices heard,” he also said. Rather than downgrade the C of E, the Commission wanted to make the Established Church more inclusive, using its “historical position” not to fight its own corner but promote everyone else.
A national conversation, likened by Baroness Butler-Sloss to a new kind of Magna Carta, should begin to draw up a joint statement of fundamental values to underpin public life. Rather than more pontificating from the “great and the good”, this would be a bottom-up process, she insisted.
The Government’s counter-terrorism strategy also came under fire. It appeared to suppress enquiry and freedom of expression rather than promote it, the report says.
“It is turning certain groups, particularly Muslims, into an ‘other’,” Baroness Butler-Sloss said. “They feel they are not trusted or part of British society. That’s very sad for the vast majority of decent Muslims in this country, and also has a real danger of radicalisation.
“We are bombing Syria and Iraq, but we are not going to win the hearts and minds of people other than through the communities from where these people come,” she said.
In the wake of a Report given by Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, which pointed to the lack of representation of other religious faith communities (than the state Church of England) in the House of Lords; this article in the U.K. Church Times by Tim Wyatt highlights the response of the Church of England to a report which is the fruit of two years’ work by the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, which was set up by the interfaith Woolf Institute.
There is a very good response to the Butler Sloss Report, from an English parish priest, which I have published in the previous thread on my blog kiwianglo.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand