Call for ‘new national settlement’ from independent Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life

Religion and Belief

An independent commission established by Cambridge’s Woolf Institute has today published its final report, calling for a ‘new settlement’ in relation to religion or belief in the UK.

Living with Difference: Community, Diversity and the Common Good is the end result of the work of twenty commissioners, including leaders from a range of religions, equality and human rights specialists, and the Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association. Chaired by the Rt Hon Baroness Butler-Sloss of Marsh Green GBE, they spent two years gathering 200 evidence submissions in writing and held oral witness sessions across the UK, in order to make recommendations targeted at policy makers, government officials, religious leaders and the wider public for how policy and practice relating to religion and belief should develop in the UK. Humanist Society Scotland held an evidence hearing for the Commission at the University of Glasgow, the only Humanist organisation to do so.

The report draws attention to the way that the religion and belief make-up of UK society has changed immeasurably in recent decades. Positive recommendations of the report include:

  • ‘Governments across the UK should introduce a statutory entitlement for all schools within the state system for a subject dealing with religious and non-religious worldviews… The content should be broad and inclusive in a way that reflects the diversity of religion and belief in the UK.’
  • ‘Governments should repeal requirements for schools to hold acts of collective worship or religious observance and issue new guidelines building on current best practice for inclusive assemblies and times for reflection’
  • ‘Government should recognise the negative practical consequences of selection by religion in schools, and that most religious schools can further their aims without discriminating on grounds of religion in their admissions and employment practices, and require bodies responsible for school admissions and the employment of staff to take measures to reduce such selection.’
  • ‘State inspectorates should be concerned with every aspect of the life of faith schools, including religious elements currently inspected by denominational authorities.’
  • ‘The BBC Charter renewal should mandate the Corporation to reflect the range of religion and belief of modern society, for example by extending contributions to Radio 4’s daily religious flagship Thought for the Day to include speakers from non-religious perspectives such as humanists.’
  • There should be ‘equitable representation’ in hospital and prison chaplaincy services ‘for those from non-Christian religious traditions and for those from humanist traditions.’

HSS Chief Executive Gordon MacRae commented,

“There are a lot of welcome proposals in this report today, it is certainly progress in the right direction. It does not go far enough though, that is clear.

“We welcome the proposals in this report to repeal the requirement for Religious Observance. It’s important to reflect that comes less than a month after a report by the Arts and Humanities Council also called for RO to be dropped.

“The report specifically highlights the dramatic fall in rates of religious identification in Scotland, it’s so important that public policy in this area begins to reflect the reality of modern Scottish society.”

For more information, please contact Gary McLelland, Head of Communications and Public Affairs for Humanist Society Scotland, on or 07813060713.


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