A BILL to disestablish the Church of England will be introduced in parliament, after being selected from the House of Lords private members’ bill ballot, following the state opening of parliament on 7 November.
The Disestablishment of the Church of England bill, to be introduced by Liberal Democrat peer Paul Scriven, would formally separate the Church of England from the British state.
The Church of England’s established church effectively means it is the state religion of the United Kingdom. British monarchs are head of state and also bear the title ‘Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England’. They must be full members of the Church of England and must take an oath to maintain the Church during their coronation.
Additionally, 26 Church of England bishops are given seats as of right in the House of Lords. Iran is the only other sovereign state which reserves seats in its legislature for clerics.
Lord Scriven said: “In a modern and plural England, it is rather archaic and unacceptable that a privileged religious organisation is planted right at the centre of the way the state is organised and run. The separation of the Church of England and the state is long overdue. We need to reflect Britain as it is today, not what it was back on the 1500s.
“No one will have their freedom and right to religion undermined but my bill will ensure the Church of England is just one religious institution amongst many and not able to use the levers of state to force its beliefs on others who have different views. I look forward to arguing the case to finally change this historical quirk and separate religion and governance in our country”.
The Church in Wales was disestablished in 1920. The Church of Scotland is not established but British monarchs swear to uphold it. King Charles did so at the Accession Council meeting as his first official act following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
The 2021 census revealed that most people in England and Wales are not Christians. The British Social Attitudes survey in 2019 found just one per cent of 18-24 year olds say they belong to the Church of England, while the Church’s own figures show less than one per cent of England’s population attend regular Sunday services.
The bill has been welcomed by the National Secular Society (NSS), which has campaigned for disestablishment since its founding in 1866. NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: “In our religiously diverse and increasingly secular country, the establishment of the Church of England is simply unsustainable. Disestablishment would remove religious privilege from the heart of our constitutional settlement and be a step towards a more inclusive, diverse, and equal society. We urge parliamentarians to support this bill as a commitment to fostering a society where all citizens are equally valued and respected.”
Also supporting the bill, Humanists UK’s Director of Policy and Public Affairs Kathy Riddick said: “The time has come for the UK to remove the archaic provision of a state religion. No modern democracy can truly represent all people while giving preferential treatment to an official religion.
“The only way to ensure an open and inclusive society for everyone, regardless of religion or belief, is to disestablish the Church of England. Humanists UK welcomes this bill as a positive step forward to achieving that.”