The Census cuts the number of non-religious people in half. It also inflates the number of religious people, especially the number of “Christians” in the UK. This matters because the census data is used to justify claims like “this is a Christian country” in debates about ethics and policy, it’s used to bolster the number of ‘faith’ schools, and is even referred to in decisions about how taxpayer’s money is spent on “community” groups.
So here’s the plan:
…a national public awareness campaign which brings the slogan “IF YOU’RE NOT RELIGIOUS, FOR GOD’S SAKE SAY SO” to public prominence, with the tagline: “In the 2011 Census, tick ‘No religion’”.
And it’s here already! The British Humanist Association, who administered and supported the Atheist Bus Campaign from fundraising through to buses on the roads, have today launched The Census Campaign.
The Census Campaign is an evolution of the tongue-in-cheek zing of the Atheist Bus slogan, which was all about responding to loud and silly religious advertising and then thousands of atheists wanting to be heard against a background of inflated media and government obsession with religion. The new Census Campaign takes that energy and aims it firmly at the distinct, representative issue of the census for the non-religious in the UK.
Policy is made (such as increasing the number of ‘faith’ schools) and resources are allocated (such as money for religious ‘community’ groups) with reference to census data. And yet the question on religion, is a single, closed, leading question which we know produces far higher figures for religious believers than any other reputable research. In particular it includes many people who are actually non-practicing or who do not believe at all, and who only answer give the answer ‘Christian’ out of habit or a loose cultural affiliation or because they were christened and they think that’s what they have to do on the census. With reference to the British Social Attitudes Survey, the Census Campaign estimates that the true number of people who are really non-religious is cut in half by the census.
The British Humanist Association lobbied to change the question in recent years, but after testing of other questions – which did return more accurate figures for the number of non-religious people in the UK – the Office of National Statistics knowingly chose to go with basically the same question that was used in 2001 (see The Story So Far). This means that the March 2011 Census stands to be just as inaccurate as last time, with the data used once again to back ridiculous arguments made often at the highest levels of government to the effect that more than 70% of the country is “Christian” in any meaningful sense.
The Census Campaign wants to change all that by raising awareness: that the religion data collected in the census has consequences, that we should therefore answer the question, and that non-religious people should answer by ticking the provided “No religion” option (rather than writing in anything else, including “Jedi” or “atheist” or “humanist” – and definitely not by selecting a religious option which doesn’t represent their real views at all).
This is an amazing, unusual and worthy campaign and there’s loads to do.
If you’re not religious for God’s sake say so!