Britain should stop claiming to be a Christian country, inquiry finds

A major inquiry has concluded that Britain is no longer a Christian country and should recognise this.

The two-year inquiry by the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, chaired by the former senior judge Baroness Butler-Sloss and involving religious leaders from all faiths, found that the decline of churchgoing and the rise of Islam and other faiths mean Britain needs a “new settlement” for religion in public life.

In the 2011 census, just 59.3% of people in England and Wales identified as Christian, down from 71.8% in 2001; Scotland experienced a similar decline from 65.1% to 53.8%. Over the same period, census figures suggest the number of Muslims in England and Wales grew from 3% to 4.8%, while the number saying they had no religion rose from 14.8% to 25.1%.

Religious practice also appears to be declining in the Church of England, with the usual Sunday attendance in October 2013 being just under 785,000, down from about 1.25million in 1973. In 2012, the Pastoral Research Centre Trust found that 849,200 Catholics attended Mass each week in England and Wales.

Calling faith schools “socially divisive” the report says the selection of children on the basis of their beliefs should be phased out, and accuses those who devise some religious education syllabuses of “sanitising” negative aspects of religion in lessons.

The commission, established by Cambridge University’s Woolf Institute, also urges reducing the number of Church of England bishops in the House of Lords, with seats instead being offered to evangelical pastors, imams, rabbis and others, and recommends that the next coronation ceremony should be modified to include other faiths.

Although the 150-page report says “the relationship of the Church of England to the State has changed and is changing, and could change further”, it stops short of calling for the disestablishment of the Church of England, arguing that the special status of Anglicanism in England and the Church of Scotland north of the border has helped other faith groups, enabling them “to make their voice heard in the public sphere”.

Government ministers have described the report as “seriously misguided” while the Church of England, although welcoming the report’s call for greater religious literacy, has said it appeared to have “been hijacked” and “fallen captive to liberal rationalism”.