A request from the British Humanist Association for Armed Forces Humanists to be included at the Cenotaph in London has again been refused, despite recognition of the non-religious in other UK capital cities and a number of locations locally.
Last year saw the first official recognition of the non-religious on Remembrance Sunday, with humanist representatives laying wreaths at the commemorations in Edinburgh and Belfast.
Although, in responding to the BHA, the government recognised the contribution of non-religious people to the armed forces, it refused to allocate a specific and official place for a humanist representative at the Cenotaph in London on Sunday 13 November 2011.
In his letter to the BHA, John Penrose MP, Tourism and Heritage Minister, states that "the many people of no faith who have fought for our country" will be honoured through the Queen laying "a wreath on behalf of everyone who suffered or died in war".
The latest defence statistics show that those armed forces personnel self-described as having ‘No Religion’ are the second largest belief group, after those calling themselves Christians, at 13.4 per cent, with all other religions having a combined total of just 1.7 per cent of all armed forces personnel.
However, there are as many as 14 religious groups with official representation at the Cenotaph, and in 2010 the government citied ‘limited space’ as a reason to refuse the BHA’s request for humanist inclusion.
The BHA works closely with the UK Armed Forces Humanists (UKAFHA), a group affiliated to the BHA and which works on behalf of the many thousands of non-religious serving armed forces personnel.
For UKAFHA members, the exclusion from the Cenotaph in London is their number one issue, as they feel saddened and angry that thousands of serving non-religious army personnel are not recognised, let alone the many in the past.
BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, "It is welcome that humanists in Scotland and Northern Ireland continue to be included in official ceremonies on Remembrance Sunday. But it is deeply disappointing that humanists have again been rejected from the Cenotaph."
He continued: "We know from our work with the UK Armed Forces Humanist Association the contribution non-religious servicemen and women make in this area, and the desire to give thanks and mark the sacrifices of earlier generations is likewise not limited to those who believe in an afterlife."
"We believe it only appropriate that, just as the nation gathered and gathers together in times of national crisis that the remembrance services commemorating those who fought and died for their country should be inclusive of all people," said Mr Copson.