Fact File: Secular Britain


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The Independent Online

In the beginning, there was Bideford. In February 2012 the High Court ruled council meeting prayers in the Devon town unlawful, and reignited a row about encroaching secularisation that’s been rumbling in the background of British public life for over a century.

Is Britain still a Christian country? The 2001 census said so, revealing that 72 per cent of British people describe themselves as Christian, but “militant atheist” Richard Dawkins has disputed these figures, suggesting many non-Christians just ‘tick the box’. According to the British Social Attitudes survey, only 14 per cent of the British population attend a religious service weekly. 

The Muslim peer and Conservative co-chairwoman, Baroness Warsi took up the cause of religion, joining a fight back in her party which has seen Michael Gove print new bibles with his name on their spine and David Cameron declare “We are a Christian country, and we should not be afraid to say so.” 

Humanist groups have dismissed these moves as attempts to claw back lost ground, but the issue remains contentious. Apparently even buses have an opinion.

The Numbers

64% of 18-24 year olds do not belong to any religion. Source: British Social Attitudes Survey, 2010

20% of those surveyed describe themselves as belonging to the Church of England. In 1983 this figure was 40%. Source: British Social Attitudes Survey, 2010

26 - Number of bishops sitting in the House of Lords. Source: churchofengland.org

49% of self-described Christians don’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God. Source: Ipsos MORI

Further Reading

If religion is ‘marginal’, I’m the Pope, Mark Steel, The Independent, 2012

In secular Britain, a clash over public prayer, Anthony Faiola, The Washington Post, 2012

Prime Minister’s King James Bible Speech, David Cameron, 2011

Deliver us from militant atheists, Robert Shrimsley, Financial Times, 2012

Baroness Warsi decries Europe’s ‘aggressive secularism’, the Telegraph, 2012


2001 – The Labour Government introduces plans to increase the number of faith schools amid public scepticism.

2008 – Atheist Bust Campaign is launched with the slogan “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

2011 –  The education secretary Michael Gove announces plans to send a copy of the King James Bible to all English schools.

2012 – High Court rules that local councils have no statutory powers to hold prayers during meetings