Secular people are just as likely to participate in society as religious people, suggests new research by the British government. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed the findings as further evidence against the idea – increasingly advanced by religious and government leaders – that religion increases people’s contribution to society. The survey also revealed that Christians were much less likely than any other belief group to mix with people of different beliefs or ethnicities.

“These statistics clearly demonstrate that having no religion is no barrier to civic participation and volunteering, exploding myths that religious people contribute more to civil society than others,” said Andrew Copson, BHA chief executive and IHEU vice president. “Many aspects of the Government’s ‘Big Society’ agenda are geared specifically towards including and praising the contribution of religious people and institutions. It would far better be properly secular, inclusive and aimed to recognize the real contribution of people regardless of belief.”

The Citizenship Survey: April 2010 – March 2011 was published by the Department for Communities and Local Government on 22 September 2011.

In terms of civic engagement and formal volunteering in 2010-2011, the figures show no statistically significant difference in participation between those with no religion (56%) and Christians (58%) – a continuing trend since 2007. The proportion of Hindus and Muslims participating in civic engagement and formal volunteering is the lowest of all religion or belief groups, at 44% respectively. Overall, there seems to be no significant difference between participation by the religious and the non-religious.

In the years from 2007 to 2011, Christians were much less likely than any other religion or belief group to mix with people from different ethnic or religious backgrounds. Far fewer Christians (49%) than other respondents ‘mixed regularly’ with others in work, school or college.

Speaking on the community cohesion figures, Andrew Copson said, “These figures indicate the need to encourage a more inclusive approach to community cohesion, and abolishing state funding of divisive ‘faith’ schools would be an important place to start. They illustrate the madness of official policies – in education especially – giving a special role to religious groups.”

NOTES

The Citizenship Survey: April 2010 – March 2011 findings together with the statistical tables are at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/corporate/statistics/citizenshipsurveyq4201011

In June, the BHA gave evidence to parliament’s Public Administration Select Committee inquiry (http://www.humanism.org.uk/documents/4874) into the Big Society, alongside representatives from the Church of England, the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, and the Chief Rabbi. See the transcript (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmpubadm/c902-iv/c90201.htm) and video (http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=8757&wfs=true) of the BHA evidence.

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