London, UK - MARCH 15, 2010 The population of the UK is equally split over the importance of institutional religion in public life, but three-quarters believe it is wrong for bishops to have reserved places in the House of Lords.
The findings come in a new ICM poll commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, as part of the Power 2010 initiative of which the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia is a member.
They are the first major survey of public opinion with regard to the place of bishops in the House of Lords.
The poll findings follow a letter-writing campaign which began last week to encourage bishops to involve themselves in the debate about reforming the Second Chamber. Over 52,000 personalised emails have been sent to bishops in just 72 hours.
The new ICM survey found:
* 43% of people believe it is important that institutional religion plays a role in public life, whilst 41% feel it isn't important.
* Many more Muslims (84%) than Christians (50%) believe that it is important that 'organised religion should play a role in public life'.
* 74% of the population - including 70% of Christians - believe it is wrong that some Church of England Bishops are given an automatic seat in the House of Lords.
* 65% say it is important that anyone who sits in the House of Commons or House of Lords and votes on laws is elected
* Support for the place of Church of England bishops in the Lords is least in Scotland, where only 20% of the population believe their presence is significant.
Jonathan Bartley, co-director of the thinktank Ekklesia said: "The judgement on those who claim to speak for ethics and values is clear: their position as unelected appointees in parliament is morally untenable.
"As far as both the wider population and those who self-identify as Christians are concerned, the time is up on reserved places for bishops in the House of Lords. But at the same time it is clear that many still feel religion has an important role to play in public life. The crucial question is, in what way? The answer would seem to be by being heard on earned merit rather than through historical preference."
Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow added: "Church of England bishops in the Lords have now been given a clear choice: gain respect by backing democratic change, or lose credibility by clinging to indefensible privilege. If they do not take it, they will only marginalise themselves."
He added: "Lords reform is an opportunity, not a threat. To influence public life for good, bishops should offer a positive example, rather than demanding special advantage - recalling that the founder of Christianity told his followers not to 'lord it' over others."
Notes to Editors
1. Founded in 2001, Ekklesia has been listed by The Independent newspaper as among 20 influential UK think-tanks. According to Alexa/Amazon, it has one of the most-visited religious and political / current affairs websites in Britain. http://ekklesia.co.uk/content/about/about.shtml
2. Power2010 is a unique campaign to give everyone the chance to have a say in how our democracy works. What is unique is that it is involving the public directly in 'changing politics for good'. At the forthcoming election, Power2010 will work to encourage every candidate to commit to reforms people have voted to see as part of a nation-wide campaign to reinvigorate our democracy from the grassroots. http://www.power2010.org.uk/
3. Ekklesia is one of a range of civil society partners involved in Power2010 and was involved in the founding discussions of the campaign, as well as in initiating this campaign for getting the bishops engaged with second chamber reform.
4. At present, Church of England bishops sit in an unelected House of Lords as of right. Britain is the only democracy where non-elected all-male representatives of one religious denomination have a place in the legislature. Ekklesia has long argued that this is wrong from both a constitutional and Christian stance, and is urging the bishops themselves to recognise the need for change and to seek a properly accountable second chamber in which persons of faith, alongside others of goodwill, may stand for election and be held publicly accountable when in public office.
5. The ICM poll of more than 1,000 adults was commissioned by POWER2010, and carried out on 10- 11th March 2010. The full ICM survey results are available here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/content/survey_on_bishops_icm.pdf