'Big Society' agenda must be inclusive, say Humanists

By staff writers
24 Jun 2011

A parliamentary inquiry is calling on religious and non-religious groups to give evidence on the government’s 'Big Society' agenda.

Among them is the British Humanist Association (BHA), the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people, and it is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for a secular state.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson will give evidence in a session next week for parliament’s Public Administration Select Committee’s inquiry looking at the impact of the 'Big Society' proposals.

Other witnesses are the Rt Rev Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester and convenor of the Bishops in the House of Lords; Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi; and Charles Wookey, Assistant General Secretary, Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales.

Mr Copson commented: "Government rhetoric on the 'Big Society' has focused on the central place ‘faith’ and ‘interfaith’ activity have to its policy, probably to the exclusion and detriment of many within so-called ‘faith’ groups and certainly to the wider society and social cohesion. We will be making the case for the government and others to recognise the value of communities as a whole and the contributions that humanists, as well as religious people, make to their communities."

In March, the BHA submitted written evidence to the Committee’s Inquiry. Discussing that memorandum, BHA Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips said: "Unless the 'Big Society' and any related initiatives are secular - that is, neutral on matters of religion and belief, treating all people equally regardless of belief, and without privilege or discrimination - then it will fail to be inclusive and may serve to divide rather than to unite society."

She added: "It is also important that social and public policies focus on the real needs and contribution of individuals and not the perceived needs of specific identity groups."

The Public Administration Select Committee’s ‘Smaller Government: “Bigger Society”?' Inquiry will consider BHA and other evidence in a session beginning at 9.45am on Thursday 30 June 2011.

[Ekk/3]

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