Thank you

Census day has come and gone, and we are thrilled with the impact that the campaign has had. Over last weekend Andrew and Naomi each spoke on mainstream TV programs about the Census, communicating the important message of the campaign.  We have received an abundance of emails in support and are confident that the campaign has fulfilled its primary roles of alerting the public to the important uses to which census data is put and encouraging us all to think carefully about our responses to the religion question.

We have been blown away by the support we have received in this campaign, and would like to thank each of you personally for the vital role you played in spreading the word.  This campaign has been so successful because so many of you have stood behind it: whether you have mentioned the campaign in conversation, stuck up a sticker or been out in the streets leafleting, we really appreciate the time and effort you have invested.

The census data is not revealed until the end of next year, so we have a bit of a wait to see if the results are more representative this time around.  However, we hope that the prominence of the campaign over the last month or so has ensured policy-makers are now aware of the concerns of the non-religious, and that because of this they do not misuse religious data with the ease that we have seen previously. Whatever impact we’ve had on the results, it’s certainly the case that in the future it will be much more difficult for others to misuse the Census stats without someone remembering our campaign and the controversy over the religion question, and so challenging the dodgy data!

Don’t take your posters and stickers down yet, for there are bound to be many who have not yet completed their forms and to whom our message is still vital.  But to those who have already filled in your form and ticked ‘No religion’, congratulations on ensuring that you will be properly represented over the coming years.

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A response to Deborah Orr

The Census Campaign received a generous amount of attention yesterday in the Comment is Free section of the Guardian, courtesy of an article written by Deborah Orr.  Unfortunately, the commentary was not entirely complimentary with respect to the campaign and humanism more generally.

You can read the article here on the Guardian website.

In response, we would like to draw attention to a comment written by one of our trustees, David Pollock: we couldn’t have said it better ourselves!

David wrote:

Deborah Orr should find out a bit more about humanism and humanists before she next writes about us. She might find that she has a lot more in common with us than she imagines – but sadly articles like hers perpetuate the myth that the British Humanist Association is a bastion of “combative and dogmatic atheism” combined in some odd emulsion with “irreligious mumbo-jumbo” – accusations that are so far off beam as to be ludicrous.

Humanists agree with her that dogma – religious or other – is the root of many evils – hence our emphasis on reason. Humanists are far less combative than are most religious groups – and certainly do not go in for “proselytising” (when did you last have a humanist trying to convert you at your front door, Deborah?)

We are committed to human rights and to the freedom of those with “beliefs we can’t share” to pursue them and – yes – to evangelise about them. As long as multiculturalism does not mean separation and political bribes, we are multiculturalists – certainly in Deborah’s “wet” sense. So we too “don’t want to stand against ‘believers'” – except that (a) in explaining Humanism we will say why we disagree with religious belief, and (b) we will certainly stand against privileges for religion such as have been showered on so-called ‘faith communities’ for the last decade (partly excused by reference to the 2001 Census), and that not just because of the unfairness of the policy but (mainly) because in our view it is bad for society and the non-religous majority of people.

Deborah attributes to us “the idea that humans are essentially good and wise”. Wrong again. In our view humans have the capacity to be good and wise – but also to be the opposite, and it is our responsibility to foster the one capacity and tame the other.

Deborah says that “humanism sounds like religion without God”. Wrong again. Humanism is certainly a lifestance, a worldview – if you like, a way of making sense of life. But religions are a particular sort of lifestance, characterised typically by beliefs in the transcendental, by sacred books, by required rituals, by mystery and unquestionable truths and by moral injunctions that sometimes have little to do with human consequences. Non-religious lifestances such as Humanism share none of these characteristics.

So, sorry, no: it’s not “dogma – really”. Humanism is – really – not an “-ism”: it has no source book of unquestionable rules or doctrine. You don’t ‘convert’ to Humanism and then have to take the rough with the smooth. Instead, most people become humanists without contact with any humanist organisation or even necessarily knowing of the word. Rather, Humanism rather is a label for a range of beliefs and attitudes. To the extent that your beliefs and attitudes coincide with that range, then the label humanist is more or less appropriate for you.

So, Humanism is an ethical position. It is not just atheism, which along with afairyism and agoblinism is a metaphysical position. Nor (at last, something Deborah gets right!) should Humanism “be confused with secularism”. Secularism is a political philosophy mandating separation of religion and politics. Humanists are very much in favour of that – but so are very many religious people. (And forget the self-interested bleatings from the religious fringe that secularism means banning the religious from the public square: far from it, for if so, humanists also would be banned. What it means is that religious institutions should not be privileged in politics and that religious doctrines should not have any part in the formation of government policy.)

Deborah concludes that “The tide of history is running against the religious”. For the moment, in some parts of the world, this may be true. But this has not just happened: it is the result in part at least of demonstrating that living without religion is not a matter of casting adrift from all meaning and morality. Humanism in all its many variants is not only a possible but a rewarding way of life that offers value to both the individual and society.

Now, Deborah – how about another article based on the facts?

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ONS admits that the census does not measure religious belief

Yesterday in the House of Commons, MP of Hove Mike Weatherley asked a very relevant and pressing question.  He asked the Minister of the Cabinet Office:

what account the Office for National Statistics took of the proportion of the population who do not follow a religion in preparing the forms for the (a) 2001 and (b) 2011 Census.

The reply came in the form of a letter from Stephen Penneck, Director General for the Office of National Statistics (‘ONS’):

A question on religion was included in the Census in England and Wales for the first time in 2001 following the Census (Amendment) Act 2000. Responses to the question helped provide information which supplemented the output from the ethnicity question by identifying ethnic minority sub-groups, particularly those originating from the Indian sub-continent, in terms of their religion. The wording and design of the question and response categories were determined after extensive consultation with users and other key stakeholders and a programme of question testing. Information from the religion question is used to supplement ethnicity data to gain a general understanding of society; to inform service provision and resource allocations; and for fulfilling legal obligations to monitor inequalities.

ONS recognised that no single religion question could meet all user needs and after a programme of research and testing, ONS decided that religious affiliation – the number of people who identify with a religion irrespective of the extent of their religious belief or practice-was again the most appropriate concept to measure. Affiliation is a socially significant indicator in its own right that relates to a person’s cultural background and values.

This response is important because it lays out the important uses that census data is put to, and makes clear that the religion question does not measure religious belief or practice, but only cultural affiliation.

Yet, data from the last census has been repeatedly used as if it does measure religious belief or practice.  If the policy-makers are going to continue misusing the data in the same was as they have over the last decade, it is vital that we ensure that all those who are not religious tick ‘No Religion’ on the forthcoming census, irrespective of any cultural affiliation they have.

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New survey evidence shows that the census religion question is fatally flawed

Over the last decade, results from the religion question in the previous census have been used repeatedly as a proxy for religious belief in the planning public services.

We have argued throughout this campaign that this constitutes a misuse of the census data, because the census question ‘What is your religion?’ is so leading that it can only serve to measure cultural affiliation.  Now, courtesy of two very recent YouGov polls commissioned by the British Humanist Association and the Humanist Society of Scotland, we have even more evidence to support our claim.

On the poll carried out in England and Wales, when asked the census question ‘What is your religion?’, 61% of people in England and Wales ticked a religious box (53.48% Christian and 7.22% other) while 39% ticked ‘No religion’. But when asked ‘Are you religious?’ only 29% of the same people said ‘Yes’ while 65% said ‘No’, meaning over half of those whom the census would count as having a religion said they were not religious.

Even more revealingly, less than half (48%) of those who ticked ‘Christian’ said they believed that Jesus Christ was a real person who died and came back to life and was the son of God.

Asked when they had last attended a place of worship for religious reasons, most people in England and Wales (63%) had not attended in the past year, 43% of people last attended over a year ago and 20% of people had never attended. Only 9% of people had attended a place of worship within the last week.

In the Scottish poll, when asked the Scottish census question, ‘What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?’ 42% of the adult population in Scotland said ‘None’.  But when asked ‘Are you religious?’ 56% of the same Scots said they were not and only 35% said they were.

Andrew Copson, BHA Chief Executive, commented,

‘Most people in the UK now say they’re not religious. In England and Wales, half the people who say they are Christian when asked the census question do not believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God, rose from the dead, and was a real person. Over half of those who tick a religious box on the census question have not been to a place of worship in over a year and asked “Are you religious?”, say they are not.

‘This poll is further evidence for a key message of The Census Campaign – that the data produced by the census, used by local and national government as if it indicates religious belief and belonging, is in fact highly misleading. We urge people who do not want to give continuing or even greater importance to unshared religions in our public life to tick “No Religion” in the census.’

Juliet Wilson, convener of the HSS, commented,

‘These polls suggest that in the Census, many more people will say they belong to a religion than is the case. The government will use census data to justify maintaining faith schools while religious groups will use it to lobby for their own institutions, and promote greater separateness in our already dangerously divided society. Our survey shows that Scotland is already effectively a secular country. But the only way the Scottish Parliament will recognise this is if people remember to put a big tick in the “None” box.’

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Lockheed Martin and the census: to boycott or not to boycott?

Many were appalled when Lockheed Martin, the notorious US arms manufacturer, was awarded the £150m contract to run the census on behalf of the Office for National Statistics.  We have already written a blog about the security of census data, and hopefully assuaged any worries you had on the that front.  However, there are further problems to address: problems to do with the ethical nature of Lockheed Martin, which have persuaded a good many people to boycott the census.  Here, we want to be honest about this matter, and tell you why we think it is still a good idea to fill in your census.

The Lockheed Martin F35 Bomber

First, let’s be clear on the nature of Lockheed Martin’s work, and the moral accusations leveled at them.  Most controversially, they provided private contract interrogators to the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.  They are responsible for Trident missiles for both the US and the UK nuclear weapons systems, and are one of three contractors which run the nuclear weapons factory at Aldermaston.  80% of their work is done for the US defence department: they assist more than two dozen American government agencies and are involved in surveillance and data processing for the CIA and FBI.  This has lead to some conflicts of interest: as Lockheed’s former vice-president Bruce Jackson chaired the Coalition for the Liberation of Iraq, a bipartisan group formed to promote Bush’s plan for war in Iraq.  Bruce Jackson was also involved in corralling support for the war from Eastern European countries, going so far as helping to write their letter of endorsement for military intervention.  Not surprisingly, Lockheed also has business relations with these countries. In 2003 Poland shelled out $3.5 billion for 48 F-16 fighter planes, which it was able to buy with a $3.8 billion loan from the US. (See the Census Alert website for more details).

Whatever your views on some of these issues, it’s clear that Lockheed Martin are not exactly pacifists, are sometimes close to some very obvious violations of human rights, and have been very involved in the political preparations for war despite a clear conflict of interests.  But they presented a good case to ONS, and gained the contract for the census.  The question now is what we, as active, moral, non-war-loving beings, should do about it.  To reiterate: the problem isn’t that our data isn’t safe: ONS have ensured that it is.  The question is whether it is a good idea to boycott the census because we object to oft immoral nature of Lockheed Martin’s other work.

We at the Census Campaign do not think it is a good idea to boycott the census at all: here we explain why.  By boycotting, the idea is that you will express your discontent with ONS’s decision.  However, in doing so, you will be directly affecting the funding that comes into your local services.  The results from the census are, after all, used to justify resource allocations at a local level: one London borough estimates that over the next ten years, they will lose £22,000 per person who does not complete the Census.  That is money lost in schools and hospitals amongst other much in need organisations.

In boycotting, you will also be passing up a vital opportunity to give the government an accurate picture of the UK.  This would be particularly bad news for our campaign; for we want the government to recognise how many of us are not religious and tackle state enshrined religious privilege accordingly.

We agree with this online blogger, who points out that a boycott will have a minimal effect on Lockheed Martin as they will get paid for their role in the census regardless of how many people fill it in. However, a boycott is a highly effective way of cutting local services in your area, and ensuring that you are not accounted for in national policies.

These are extremely high costs to make a statement: especially when you can make that statement in other, less harmful, ways.  Here are some ideas from the afore mentioned blogger: ‘write to your MP, donate the money which you’ve saved by not getting fined to a campaigning group, meet with others and develop new and creative campaigns’.  You can also keep eye on the government, and protest any new contracts it threatens to develop with arms manufacturors.

Whatever approach you choose, fill in your census for the reasons outlined above: and encourage others to do so too.

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Jedi? Heavy Metaller? Troll? Why we should present a united front under ‘No Religion’

In the last census, over 390 000 people claimed they belong to the Jedi religion: about 13 000 more than those who self-identified as Jewish.

Rock out and identify yourself as belonging to the 'Heavy Metal' religion?

As the 2011 census arrives on our doorsteps, many different ‘religions’ are vying for the attention of the sceptical: a brief scroll through Facebook groups reveals 35 000 fans of ‘Heavy Metal’ as the religion of choice; however you might feel more at home with ‘Dumbledore’s Army’ (514 fans) or ‘Pokemon Master’ (444 fans) as your religion.

We strongly urge all those who are not religious to resist the temptation of giving a jovial response, and to tick ‘No Religion’ on the census.  It is true that some ‘religions’ which are obviously tongue-in-cheek are filed under ‘No Religion’ by the Office of National Statistics – but that is not guaranteed.  Even more important, there are further bodies who use the census data, and who have a great deal to gain by distorting the nature of the data.  Unless we present a united front under ‘No religion’, it will always be possible for religious organizations to disaggregate the data to their advantage.

Consider, for example, a recent article by the Christian Institute: a socially conservative Christian group.  They used the 2001 census data as follows:

According to the last census, for every one atheist/humanist in England and Wales there were 2,037 people who identified themselves as Christian.

The number of atheists and humanists in the 2001 Census in England and Wales was only 18,654, while those who said they were Christian in England and Wales numbered 38 million – 71 per cent of the population.

While this is factually correct, it fails to account for the other 8,577,834 who self-identified as not having a religion.  The data, when presented truthfully, show the non-religious to be the second biggest group of respondents after Christians: rather than 1:2,037 (as quoted above), the ratio of non-religious to Christians measured in the last census is 1:4.8. Of course, for this year’s census, we expect that ratio to be more like 1:1!

We want to make sure that this sort of cherry picking  of census data is much harder to do.  If all those who are not religious tick ‘No Religion’, we will send out a clear, unified message to policy makers that cannot be misconstrued or distorted.  And this really does matter – remember that over the last decade, the census data statistics on religion have been used to justify an increase in the number of state maintained faith schools, to keep the unelected Bishops in the House of Lords, and to justify pouring state funds into religious organisations.

As faith plays an ever increasing role in public services and government, it is vital that the non-religious stand up together to be counted in this month’s census.

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New Census Campaign advertiser steps up

VMG Census Campaign screen at Bond Street tube“How this could cause anyone serious offence is a mystery to us”

After being rejected by advertising space owners on the railway network, Census Campaign posters are back with a vengeance. Our original slogan, ‘If you’re not religious for God’s sake say so’ is now appearing in animated form on digital panels, bringing the campaign off the streets and into shopping centres for the first time.

The campaign was prevented from booking posters at railway stations following advice given to our media agency by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) that the slogan ‘If you’re not religious for God’s sake say so’ may cause ‘widespread’ and ‘serious’ offence. As a consequence the BHA’s media agency said that even a modified version of the slogan, omitting ‘for God’s sake’, was not acceptable to their franchise partners on the railways.

Into the breach have stepped VMG Global, who approached the BHA in full knowledge of CAP’s previous advice, offering to run the ads on large, high visibility animated screens. A spokesperson for VMG, Peter Evans, said, ‘VMG are delighted to help the BHA in its Census campaign by running the original, uncensored  ads on our shopping centre screen network. We cannot see anything objectionable in the advertising copy. How this could cause anyone serious offence is a mystery to us.’

Chief Executive of the BHA Andrew Copson said, ‘It is clearly not the case that any and all humorous references to religion are “offensive” and there is nothing shocking or mean-spirited about employing a common phrase which happens to reference the subject matter. Sensible advertisers know this.

‘And indeed religious people have not been complaining to us, or as far as we know to anyone else about the campaign slogan itself, which has already appeared on other buses and billboards. The slogan doesn’t target religious people, nor even criticise religion or religious belief – not that that should be a problem, either. Underscoring the point you are making with a pun is not offensive.’

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Window stickers for one and all!

Your window sticker.

As a big thank-you to our wonderful supporters, we have decided to extend the offer and send out Census Campaign window stickers to anyone who wants one.  These will look like the graphic above, and can be put up on car windows, office windows, home windows and more!

E-mail with your address and we will get them sent out asap.  (Be quick: we can only do this while stocks last!)

Thanks again to the generous donor who made this possible.

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Ed Byrne on the Census Campaign

Comedian Ed Byrne joins us at the British Humanist Association office to discuss the Census Campaign, the religion question, and the not so trivial point that non-religious people should tick “No religion”.

Thanks Ed!

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A bumper sticker shaped ‘thank-you’ for donations

We have reached our £15,000 target!

In order to thank those who have already given to the campaign, we have ordered hundreds of bumper stickers which we will send out to a random selection of donors. (This is possible thanks to a generous personal donation specifically for this purpose!)

Census Campaign bumper sticker

The Census Campaign bumper sticker

We’ll also send out a bumper sticker or two to every new donation given over the next week (while stocks last).

Make your donation via JustGiving

Please make sure you include your address on the JustGiving site, tell us why you are ticking ‘No Religion’ in the comment box, and you will receive a ‘thankyou’ bumper sticker in the post shortly after.

We have upped our target to £20,000. We have new advertising opportunities and all money raised will go towards advertising for the campaign.  We don’t have long to go now, so please give generously and we will spread the word!

Census Campaign - donate

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