A new UK opinion poll shows why the census question on religion is fatally flawed for its intended purpose of planning public services.
So says the British Humanist Association (BHA), which commissioned the independently conducted professional poll.
When asked the census question ‘What is your religion?’, 61 per cent of people in England and Wales ticked a religious box (53.48 per cent Christian and 7.22 per cent other) while 39 per cent ticked ‘No religion’.
But when asked ‘Are you religious?’ only 29 per cent of the same people said ‘Yes’ while 65 per cent said ‘No’, meaning over half of those whom the census would count as having a religion said they were not religious.
Less than half (48 per cent) 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.
Asked when they had last attended a place of worship for religious reasons, most people in England and Wales (63 per cent) had not attended in the past year, 43 per cent of people last attended over a year ago and 20 per cent of people had never attended. Only nine per cent of people had attended a place of worship within the last week.
In a separate poll in Scotland, commissioned by the Humanist Society of Scotland (HSS), when asked the Scottish census question, ‘What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?’ 42 per cent of the adult population in Scotland said 'None'.
But when asked ‘Are you religious?’ 56 per cent of the same Scots said they were not and only 35 per cent said they were.
Andrew Copson, BHA Chief Executive, commented: "Most people in the UK now say they're not religious. In England and Wales, half the people who say they are Christian when asked the census question do not believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, rose from the dead, and was a real person. Over half of those who tick a religious box on the census question have not been to a place of worship in over a year and asked 'Are you religious?', say they are not."
Mr Copson continued: "This poll is further evidence for a key message of The Census Campaign – that the data produced by the census, used by local and national government as if it indicates religious belief and belonging, is in fact highly misleading. 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.’"
Juliet Wilson, convener of the HSS, added: "These polls suggest that in the Census, many more people will say they belong to a religion than is the case. The government will use census data to justify maintaining faith schools while religious groups will use it to lobby for their own institutions, and promote greater separateness in our already dangerously divided society. Our survey shows that Scotland is already effectively a secular country. But the only way the Scottish Parliament will recognise this is if people remember to put a big tick in the 'None' box."
The British Humanist Association is the largest national charity representing and supporting the interests of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK.
The BHA Census Campaign is online at: www.census-campaign.org.uk.