Page last updated at 18:19 GMT, Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Public 'favour religious values'

By Robert Pigott
Religious Affairs correspondent

St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast
How far should religious institutions be involved in public life?

A BBC poll suggests that most people want religion and the values derived from it to play an important role in British public life.

Of 1,045 people questioned by ComRes, 62% were in favour.

Meanwhile, 63% of those questioned agreed that laws should respect and be influenced by the UK's religious values.

The findings contrast with calls from some politicians and secularist groups to exclude faith from the public arena.

Guiding principles

A significantly greater proportion of the Muslims and Hindus polled (albeit in relatively small numbers) supported a strong role in public life for the UK's (essentially Christian) traditional religious values.

Poll graphic

The findings support other evidence of an alliance between people of different faith groups in resisting secularism. Many Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and members of other minority religious groups would rather have a Christian-based framework to national life, than one that is entirely secular.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor warned a few years ago that Christianity was "all but vanquished" as the guiding principle for Britain's moral framework.

Poll graphic

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor argued that Christian beliefs - such as the sanctity of human life and the rule "do as you would be done by" - should continue to underpin the behaviour of Britons.


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Church leaders have warned that recent legislation has elevated goals such as freedom from discrimination for homosexual people, above the freedom of religion.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams warned that the government was using legislation to control people's morals as well as their behaviour.

Secularists, including an increasingly militant atheist movement, have stepped up their campaign to "free" the public from what they see as the burden of a lingering attachment to religious belief.

There have been advertisements on the sides of buses, and in the last few days, a network of student humanist associations has been inaugurated.

In response to the poll, the British Humanist Association issued a statement saying that many of society's values had a humanist, as well as a religious basis.

The Association's Director of Education and Public Affairs, Andrew Copson, also raised the wording of the questions:

"If the poll had suggested religious "values" such as no divorce, no sex outside of marriage and no stem cell research, it is inconceivable that many of the respondents would have agreed with the question."

However, the BBC poll indicates that even at a time when baptisms, church weddings and attendance at Sunday services are declining, people are unwilling for secularism to displace religion altogether.

They may be dubious about specific religious beliefs, and unwilling to accept the teaching of religious organisations about how they should lead their lives, but the survey suggests they are not yet ready to cast God out of public life.

Poll graphic

ComRes interviewed a random selection of 1,045 people by telephone on 18-19 February and the results were weighted to reflect the make-up of the UK population.

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Telegraph 79 per cent of Muslims say Christianity should have strong role in Britain - 37 hrs ago

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