05 March 2011
God on the Buses - thoughts on the Census Campaign
We members of Leicester Secular Society had quite a debate before settling on the 'For God's Sake' wording for our bus ad campaign, and like other advertisers we plumped for something that would provoke interest and controversy. We're not wealthy like the major religions, and need to use our limited campaign funds effectively. I think the discussion [following the article on the Leicester Mercury website - see above] shows we were right. We're a pretty diverse group of opinionated people however, and I dare say we still have some members who wince whenever they see our ad on the buses.
But I'd like to address two issues that the debate so far hasn't touched. First, the effect of religion being an OPTIONAL question on the census form. On the whole, non-religious people will tend to skip the question, while adherents to any of the religion will tick the appropriate box. When the results from the census are analysed, this could lead to an inflated view of the importance of religion in this country. To minimise this, I urge people who practise no religion (regardless of their personal feelings about our slogan) to say so on the form, rather than skip the question.
The other issue is in the illegitimate use made of the census data to support policy. A high aggregate result for religions will be used to justify many things from sectarian schools to hiving off social services to religious charities to the continued presence ex-officio of the bishops in the Lords.
But religious people have diverse views on these matters. Elections and referenda are the democratic way to approach such things, not censuses.
Your response shows at least that you've been provoked into commenting, and we thank you for having the interest and taking the time to do so.
Our message will have been effective if you follow our recommendation and tick 'No Religion' if that applies for you, rather than skipping the question or choosing one of the religions because it's your background or community rather than a faith you actually follow.
On the third count - I hope you haven't taken offence - as I said, it wasn't our intention to cause any.