Why not write ‘Humanism’ on the census form?

Through the Census Campaign, the British Humanist Association is encouraging individuals with no religious belief to tick the ‘No Religion’ box on the census form.  In the 2001 census, 7.7 million people, (14.6 per cent in England and 18.5 per cent in Wales) stated they have no religion. This formed the second largest group, after Christianity.

This is a substantial foundation to build upon, and from the experience the BHA has gained on campaigning on issues related to the census, we are of the opinion that it would be more effective for non-religious individuals to tick the appropriate box rather than entering their own label of ‘humanist’ in the box available.

We know from the previous census that a substantial proportion of individuals without religious belief simply chose to ignore the question as it is entirely optional. Those without religious belief are more likely to simply tick the ‘No Religion’ box than enter in the appropriate details. Additionally, the actual terminology used may differ, with various combinations of terms such as humanist/atheist/agnostic/rationalist that may appear to diminish the number of persons who recognise themselves as not holding a religious belief.

The BHA also appreciates that a large number of people essentially hold humanist values, with an Ipsos Mori poll of 2007 indicating that around 36% of those questioned in a sample survey (equivalent to 17 million people if reflected in the country as a whole) in agreement with principles of humanism. However, many individuals who are essentially humanist in their perspective may feel deeply uncomfortable with labels, and would not feel it appropriate to categorise their beliefs as explicitly.

It is a core aim of the BHA to promote Humanism and, as above, we want to encourage as many people with humanist beliefs as possible to describe themselves as so. However, the Census 2011 is not the appropriate survey to collect that data. The numbers who write in atheist/humanist/rationalist etc are not going to be large nor proportionate – although a proper two-part self-descriptive survey may help to capture such detail more accurately, it is still the case that describing oneself as not religious or non-religious is likely to gather much higher numbers.

The BHA strongly urges individuals without a religious belief to mark the ‘No religion’ box on the census as we believe this will yield a greater number of results and will be a more powerful indication of the level of non-religious belief in England and Wales.

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