The prime minister’s insistence that Britain is a “Christian country” will alienate a large section of the population, it is warned.
David Cameron has made repeated statements about his religious beliefs this month, including a call to British Christians to be “more confident” in the face of increasing secularisation.
Mr Cameron has also been quoted recently as saying that Jesus was the first proponent of his “Big Society” policy idea, and that he simply wanted to continue that work.
Cameron is seeking to bolster support from the right in his party. It seems cynical, misguided and unwise Tony Hawks, comedian
But the British Humanist Association (BHA) said on Monday that he risks excluding those who do not identify themselves as Christians, which a 2010 survey found to be more than half of the population.
“Some people who are perhaps older and who grew up in a predominantly Christian country will not mind it so much, but those of us who have no connection at all to Christianity find it, at best, puzzling and, at worst, genuinely alienating,” the BHA’s chief executive Andrew Copson told Channel 4 News.
“Non-Christians who hear the prime minister talking about this must think ‘he is not talking about me’. It makes people feel uncomfortable because they do not like religion mixed with politics.”
He added that people who follow other religions would also find Cameron’s comments “alienating”.
A survey of more than 200 people on Channel 4 News’s Facebook page found that 78 per cent did not think the prime minister should be mixing politics and religion.
Eight per cent of people said that Britain is a Christian country, and eight per cent said Britain is a “multi-faith” country. Six per cent said the UK is “not practicing Christian” but is founded on “Christian principles.”
Mr Copson’s comments followed the Daily Telegraph’s publication of an open letter signed by more than 50 BHA supporters, including writer Joan Smith, and a host of other leading public figures.
They were responding in part to a Church Times article by Mr Cameron, in which he wrote: “I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations, and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to make a difference to people’s lives.”
In the letter, the BHA members insisted that “apart from in the narrow constitutional sense that we continue to have an established Church, Britain is not a ‘Christian country'”.
While they said they respected Mr Cameron’s right to his religious beliefs, they said they objected to the “negative consequences for politics and society” that they said his bringing those beliefs into the political sphere would engender.
And the signatories – who count writer AC Grayling, comedian and musician Tim Minchin and authors Philip Pullman and Sir Terry Pratchett among their number – told Mr Cameron: “Although it is right to recognise the contribution made by many Christians to social action, it is wrong to try to exceptionalise their contribution when it is equalled by British people of different beliefs.
“This needlessly fuels enervating sectarian debates that are by and large absent from the lives of most British people, who do not want religions or religious identities to be actively prioritised by their elected government.”
Comedian and writer Tony Hawks, himself a signatory to the letter, told Channel 4 News that Mr Cameron’s attempts to push religion up the agenda was part of a “cynical, misguided and unwise” attempt to bolster flagging support among core Tory supporters and members.
A spokesman for the prime minister did not respond to a request for comment.