Flagship billboards carry original message, ‘If you’re not religious, for God’s sake say so’

As census forms begin arriving on people’s doorsteps, we have secured two flagship billboards in central London to raise awareness of the campaign.  Bearing the slogan ‘If you’re not religious, for God’s sake say so’, which encountered censorship elsewhere, the billboard outlines a number of ways in which census data on religion has been used; and urges passers-by, if they are not religious, to say so on the census.

The billboards were booked through an alternative media agency, who evidently did not see the message as having the potential for ‘widespread’ and ‘serious’ offence.  Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the BHA, says of the billboard:

‘We are thrilled to be able to reveal this billboard, which outlines the main messages of the campaign.  We hope that it will help passers-by realise that the way they answer the census question on religion is vitally important and will have tangible effects on their future lives. We are asking people to be honest and if they are not religious, to say so. Ticking ‘No religion’ means that their voices will be heard and we will have a more truthful picture of what people really believe today, which cannot be misused by government and policy-makers.’

The billboard reads: The Census asks you a leading question: What is your religion?  The results from the last Census were used to justify: increasing the number of ‘faith’ schools, keeping unelected Bishops in the Lords, and spending tax-payers’ money on religious organisations.  If you’re not religious, for God’s sake says so.  In the 2011 Census tick ‘No Religion’.

See high resolution pics of the billboard on the BHA website.

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The Twittersphere has spoken: Cory Doctorow recants Jediism

Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow portrait by Jonathan Worth

Cory Doctorow, creative freedoms campaigner, Little Brother author and co-editor of the massive Boing Boing blog, tweeted earlier today that he was:

Looking through the #census form, decided that we’re all going to put our #religion down as “#Jedi

The interwebs was quick to respond in the negative with a flurry of counter-tweets. “NO! It screws up the demographics and makes it look like there are fewer “Non-religious” than there are!” said Andrew Carter. And “please don’t!” said Terence Eden, offering a link to the BHA’s Census page via http://bit.ly/g41pT8 and his own thoughts on the matter.

It didn’t take long for the wisdom to settle. “OK, outraged #humanists/#atheists,” tweeted Cory, “you can stop telling me I’m not a #jedi already”, offering a link to a fresh Boing Boing blog post on the Census and asking “is that penance enough?”.

“Just about”, replied the BHA. Looks like Cory is absolved of his sins.

Twitter: home of celebrities, cat videos, and recantations of fictional religions by high profile science-fiction writers set upon by virtual angry mobs.

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Read and Listen Again

The launch of the bus posters and the banning of ‘For God’s sake’ has caused a major stir in local and national press.

Here we provide a round-up, so you can read and listen again.  We will update this page as more go online, so keep checking back.

With respect to reading materials, John McManus, on the BBC website did a great article about the launch of the Census Campaign buses.  The New Statesman has written an article about our run-ins with the Committee of Advertising Practices, entitled ‘For God’s sake … this isn’t offensive’: see also the GuardianNew Humanist, and Daily Mirror articles on our banned ads.

Lots of local and national news media have also published our press release and related articles:

The Independent

The Huddersfield Daily Examiner

The Daily Star

IC Burton

Express and Star

The Drum

The Bolton News

The Significance Magazine

The Christian Institute

And there was a lot of action on the radio:

BHA Chief Exec Andrew Copson on BBC Wales: from 00.54 mins.

Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips on BBC Radio Five Live: from 00.54 mins.

Andrew on BBC Radio 3 Counties: from 1.07 mins.

Andrew on BBC Radio London: from 1.14 mins.

Andrew on BBC Radio Manchester: from 2.08 mins.

BHA supporter Dr. Donald Cameron on BBC Radio Bristol: from 1.19 mins.

Richard Dawkins on BBC Radio Oxford: from 2.06 mins.

Naomi on BBC Radio London: from 0.02 and 0.16 mins.

Andrew on BBC Radio Solent: from 1.20 mins.

Andrew on BBC 5 Live: from 1.15 mins.

Naomi on Radio Derby: from 1.42 mins.

Casper Melville, Editor of the New Humanist magazine, on BBC News

It seems that everyone’s talking about the campaign!  Don’t forget to do your bit: keep spreading the message of the campaign to see the non-religious population standing up to be counted in March.

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Your letters to the editors around the country

There’s a few letter-writing resources in our Campaigns Tools section. Here’s a few letters to local press we’ve spotted or been sent from around the country this week.

David Dugdale, Newcastle:

I AMwriting as a supporter of the British Humanist Association (BHA).

I would like to encourage all Sentinel readers to think carefully about the question on religion in the upcoming 2011 Census. The results of the question are used by government, local authorities and service providers to decide how to run services and create policies. Many people in the last Census ticked the Christian box yet do not hold Christian beliefs, go to Church or identify as Christian in any meaningful way. Ticking Christian, rather than No religion, has the effect of vastly overestimating religious belief and this has influenced central and local government policy.

If the 2011 Census creates a similarly result, it may lead to further discrimination against non-religious people and greater privileging for religious groups and individuals. [Continues]

Chris Robinson, Doncaster:

Many people in the last Census ticked the ‘Christian’ box when they did not hold Christian beliefs, go to Church or identify as Christian in any meaningful way. By ticking ‘Christian’, rather than ‘No religion’, this has influenced central and local government policy. This has led to an increase in divisive and discriminatory faith schools, (which the majority of the population are against), huge amounts of money for ‘faith groups’ in local areas and the appointment of ‘faith advisors’ to government departments.

I strongly urge readers who do not practise or strongly identify with any particular religion to tick the ‘No Religion’ box in the Census in March 2011. [Continues]

David Brittain in Bedfordshire:

Andrew Rome offers ‘proof’ in his recent letter that society is overwhelmingly religious. But our everyday experience shows that the figures he quotes are nonsense, and I would invite anyone to test it by polling their workmates. I suspect that even Mr Rome, in his more lucid moments, is aware that the proportions he quotes are, to say the least, suspect.

How does this disparity between fact and fiction come about? It’s about the way the question is asked – usually at the population census.

The ‘religion’ question is phrased in such a way as to be taken as a ‘which religion were you born into?’ inquiry. In answering THAT, most people might, understandably, tick the ‘Christian’ box.

But the answer makes no sense.

We usually engage our critical minds when adult, and eventually confine God to same realm as Santa and the tooth fairy. [Continues]

Dane Clouston, Oxfordshire:

Sir – Bob Forster intemperately makes it clear in his letter this week that he disagrees with my wish for state-supported schools to be free of divisive religious indoctrination and that he does not agree that it is good that the theme of this year’s (very successful) town and gown Think Week (www.thinkweek.co.uk) is “Towards a Secular State”.

He asks why do so many families choose faith schools? One answer is that often, as in the case of my children and grandchildren, it is the only local state school — a Church of England school for historical reasons only.

Let us hope that non-religious people will make their modern views clear by ticking the No Religion box in the census next month. [Continues]

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Over 200 Census Campaign bus adverts hit the streets

Finally, and despite setbacks, posters in support of the Census Campaign will be displayed on over 200 buses around the UK from today.

We originally designed the posters to carry our slogan ‘If you’re not religious, for God’s sake say so’: however, we had to amend this after the Committee of Advertising Practice advised that it had the potential to cause ‘widespread’ and ‘serious’ offence and advertisers were unwilling to display it.

The amended slogan reads ‘Not religious? In this year’s census say so!’.  Unlike our rail posters, the amended slogan was deemed acceptable by our media agency’s franchise partners (the buses), meaning that we were able to launch a massive advertising campaign across the UK.  The prohibited rail posters are now being circulated online.

The Census Campaign bus posters will be highly visible on single deck buses in major cities all over the UK.  The posters also link to the campaign website, directing members of the public to the many reasons why the non-religious should tick ‘No Religion’ in the forthcoming census.

Keep your eyes peeled for buses in your area!

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Posters banned from railway stations published here

Three posters planned for display at railway stations as part of the The Census Campaign have been refused by companies owning the advertising space, who viewed them as too likely to cause offence.

Census Campaign poster Jedi Census Campaign poster mum Census Campaign poster couple

Click the images for larger versions. (You can view the photos in really high resolution for press purposes at www.humanism.org.uk/census-adverts.)

Two reasons were given by owners of the space: they were concerned that the use of the phrase ‘for God’s sake’ would cause widespread and serious offence and they also did not wish to take adverts relating to religion.

The BHA has reacted with astonishment that an everyday phrase should be deemed too contentious for public display.

‘It is a little tongue-in-cheek,’ BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘but in the same way that saying “bless you” has no religious implication for many, “for God’s sake” is used to express urgency and not to invoke a deity. This censorship of a legitimate advert is frustrating and ridiculous: the blasphemy laws in England have been abolished but we are seeing the same principle being enforced nonetheless.’

The BHA also pointed out that the adverts were only tangenially related to religion, being mostly concerned with public policy and directed towards people who are not religious.

Mr Copson continued, ‘The Census Campaign is not intended to dissuade those who hold strong religious beliefs from holding them. We are asking people to be honest and if they are not religious, to say so. Ticking “No religion” means that their voices will be heard and we will have a more truthful picture of what people really believe today.’

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It’s going to be a busy few days …

[Friday 4 March: Updated with more media.]

There are LOTS of opportunities for you to hear about the Census Campaign over the next few days. Tune in to the following programmes to hear BHA staff and supporters tirelessly spreading the word:

Friday 4 March:

– 6.50 a.m.: BHA Chief Exec Andrew Copson on BBC Wales: from 00.54 mins.

– 6.50 a.m.: Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips on BBC Radio Five Live: from 00.54 mins.

– 7.05 a.m.: Andrew on BBC Radio 3 Counties: from 1.07 mins.

– 7.30 a.m.: Andrew on BBC Radio London: from 1.14 mins.

– 7.40 a.m.: Andrew on BBC Radio Manchester: from 2.08 mins.

– 7.50 a.m.: BHA supporter Dr. Donald Cameron on BBC Radio Bristol: from 1.19 mins.

– Around 9 a.m.: Richard Dawkins on BBC Radio Oxford: from 2.06 mins.

– 9.10 a.m.: Naomi on BBC Radio London: from 0.02 and 0.16 mins.

– 11.10 a.m.: Andrew on BBC Radio Essex.

– 1.15 p.m.: Naomi on BBC Radio Yorkshire

– 4.30 p.m.: Head of Membership and Promotion Bob Churchill on Premier Christian Radio

– 6.30 p.m.: Naomi on BBC South Today.

Sunday 6 March:

– 6.50 a.m.: Andrew on BBC Radio Derby

– 7.20 a.m.: Andrew BBC Radio Solent

Monday 7 March:

– 11.45 a.m.: Naomi on BBC Radio Derby

Phew! Be sure to listen in if you are up early enough, or listen again online.

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British Jews told to tick ‘Jewish’ to get Jewish faith schools

Photographer: Paul Gooddy, http://bit.ly/eVFZA7

In an article released this morning on TotallyJewish.com, the Board of Deputies of British Jews urged those Jews to tick the ‘Jewish’ box in the forthcoming census so as to ‘ensure the appropriate provision of funding for the diverse needs of [the Jewish] community’.

Warning against an under-representation of British Jews, Daniel Vulkan from the Board of Deputies claimed that ‘the answers [from the census religion question] will help both national and local government in planning the provision of faith-specific services … If the census shows that a certain area has a lot of young Jewish couples, this may indicate the need for a new Jewish school.’

This is, of course, regrettably true: census data has, over the last decade, been misused to justify a wide range of policy decisions and resource allocations; and there is no reason to think things will be different in the next few years. ‘Misused’ rather than ‘used’ because the census data about religion is only informative with respect to the (often weak) cultural affiliation of individuals: not on how they feel about religious schools or other religious services.

However, the link between census data and these misuses are not often cited as explicitly as in this article. It seems that more people are coming to understand the grave importance of this question under the presumption that the data will be misused as frequently over the next decade as it was over the last.

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The leafleting begins…


When we first made public the offer of sending leaflets to our local groups, we had no idea that we would get such a fantastic response.  Over 65,000 leaflets have been ordered: that is a commitment of about 1,500 working hours from dedicated humanists around the UK. 

Inspired by your enthusiasm we decided to make a start, and took a train yesterday from our London office down to sunny (or rather somewhat overcast!) Brighton.  The ONS have started their promotional push for the census, and this took the form of a big purple bus appearing in Brighton yesterday.  We went and said hello, made sure they were aware of the very important issues at stake, and then wandered the streets of Brighton giving out leaflets and talking to anyone who would listen to us.  And to a widely positive response!

If you are interested in doing some leafleting in your area, contact lizzie@humanism.org.uk, and we will try to sort you out with a local group to hit the streets with.  Otherwise, you can download leaflets on our Campaign Tools page; although do be sure to check with your local authority first as to whether you will require permission. 

Keep us updated on your exploits: post photos and updates on our Facebook site and show the world how hard you are all working to spread the word!

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Faith Schools and the Census

The last census radically over-estimated the number of religious people in England and Wales, leading to policies which favoured religious people and organisations.  Nowhere is this more pressing than in the area of education, where radical policy changes have been made allowing a massive expansion of state maintained faith schools.  This is something that we, at the BHA, are passionately opposed to; and it constitutes a central reason why we think it is vital that the Government is given a more accurate picture of religiosity this census.

Why, you might ask, should you be worried about the expansion of state supported faith schools?  First (and importantly for those of you who have tried to get your child into your local school): faith schools are allowed to discriminate in their admissions process, meaning that they can give preference to children from families who share the religion of the school.  Not only does this discriminate against children who don’t belong to the ‘right’ religion (as if children can actually ‘belong’ to a religion at such a young age!), it also is widely recognised as leading to segregation along religious and socio-economic lines.  Second, some faith schools are allowed to reject otherwise qualified applicants when hiring teaching staff because they are of the ‘wrong’ or no religion.  Third, standard faith schools have freedom with respect to the RE syllabus they teach.  They can, if they choose, only teach one religion, and teach it as fact.  Similarly, they have the freedom to teach vital subjects like sex and relationships education from a religious vantage point: if any more is taught than the basic biological processes of science classes, it may well be taught in ways that are homophobic or gender discriminatory.

Remember, these are practices being funded by the state.  It is tax-payers’ money, which is in scarce supply, that is supporting this discrimination and potential indoctrination, rather than being used to move towards a comprehensive and inclusive education for all children.

And things are only going to get worse.  In July last year, the Government rushed the Academies Act through Parliament (using processes normally reserved for legislation around terrorism), which allows all state schools to apply for ‘Academy’ status.  If they are successful in their application, the school need only stay within the wide remit of teaching a ‘broad, balanced’ curriculum: that is, it need not follow the national curriculum.  However, by ‘freeing’ religious Academies from the national curriculum without sufficient safeguards, children are at risk of being exposed to and taught extreme religious views presented as facts, including creationism.  Furthermore, Academies are able to allocate up to 100% of their admissions on the basis of faith alone.

Soon enough, Academies won’t be a minority: all schools can apply to be an Academy, and many already have.  Even more worrying is the fact that in the current Education Bill, it is proposed that any local authority wishing to open a new state maintained school should first seek proposals for the establishment of an Academy.  This means that all new schools will be automatically be proposed as an Academy:  a frightening prospect indeed.

The Census data from 2001 has been used repeatedly to justify these policies, despite the fact that surveys have repeatedly shown that the majority does not approve of faith schools. 

Make sure the Government can’t use the data like this again: if you are not religious, make sure you tick ‘No Religion’. 

If you want to do more to stop the expansion of faith schools, visit http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/what-you-can-do-to-help/edbillaction to take action on the current Education Bill.

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