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article imageReport: UK census question on religion is 'highly misleading'

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By Andrew John     Mar 21, 2011 in Religion
Religion is on the decline in the United Kingdom, according to one of the country's leading humanist organisations. And it believes the religion question in the forthcoming national census is "fatally flawed."
The British Humanist Association (BHA) says the question about religion in the poll – due to be completed on March 27 by law – is misleading and won't help with the planning of public services.
"When asked [in the BHA's own poll] the census question from 2001, ‘What is your religion?’, 61% of people in England and Wales ticked a religious box (53.48% Christian and 7.22% other) while 39% ticked ‘No religion’," says the association.
It continues: "But when asked ‘Are you religious?’ only 29% of the same people said ‘Yes’ while 65% said ‘No’, meaning over half of those whom the census would count as having a religion said they were not religious.
"Even more revealingly, [fewer] than half (48%) of those who ticked ‘Christian’ said they believed that Jesus Christ was a real person who died and came back to life and was the son of God."
Most people in England and Wales (63 percent), when asked when they had last attended a place of worship for religious reasons, said they hadn't
From the BHA s website: the image of the side of a bus with a campaign banner
From the BHA's website: the image of the side of a bus with a campaign banner
British Humanist Association
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done so in the past year; "43% of people last attended over a year ago and 20% of people had never attended. Only 9% of people had attended a place of worship within the last week."
The association's sister organisation in Scotland – the Humanist Society of Scotland – conducted a separate poll. When people were asked the Scottish 2001 census question, "What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?" 42 percent of the adult population said "None."
"But when asked ‘Are you religious?’ 56% of the same Scots said they were not and only 35% said they were," says the BHA.
The religion question was featured in the British census for the first time 10 years ago, and this has been opposed by humanists and secularists, who say the data is used to "justify" religious privilege when it comes to state policy on the provision of public services.
Posters banned
The Guardian quotes the BHA's director, Andrew Copson, as saying that the association's poll was "further evidence" that the 2001 census data was "highly misleading" because it gave an inaccurate representation of religious belief and practice in the UK.
"We urge people who do not want to give continuing or even greater importance to unshared religions in our public life to tick 'No Religion' in the census," says Copson.
The Guardian also cites the BHA's census campaign posters, which were banned from railway stations because the slogan – "If you're not religious, for God's sake say so" – was "deemed likely to cause serious and widespread offence."
One of the banned posters read: "We used to tick 'Christian' but we're not really religious. We'll tick 'No Religion' this time. We're sick of hearing politicians say this is a religious country and giving millions to religious organisations and the pope's state visit. Money like that should go where it is needed."
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More about Religion, British humanist association, Census, Worship, humanist society of scotland
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