Lib Dem peer's bill seeks disestablishment of Church of England

26 bishops and archbishops sit in the House of Lords as of right.Reuters

A bill to formally separate the Church of England and the state is to be introduced in Parliament.

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Scriven said that his bill on disestablishment was "long overdue" and that the Church of England's current status was "a historic quirk".

As the established Church, the Church of England is bound up with the British state and its governing institutions. Twenty-six Church of England bishops have automatic seats in the House of Lords. The monarch is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and also holds the title 'Defender of the Faith'.

At his coronation earlier this year, King Charles swore to "maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England", and to "preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them".

Establishment is also tied up with the legal requirement for schools to hold collective worship of a "broadly Christian" nature.

Calls for a separation of church and state have grown as the decline of Christianity has become increasingly apparent with successive Census results. In the 2021 Census, only 46.2% of the population of England and Wales identified as Christian. But some Anglicans support disestablishment too, arguing that it would give the Church greater autonomy.

Lord Scriven said: "In a modern and plural England, it is rather archaic and unacceptable that a privileged religious organisation is planted right at the centre of the way the state is organised and run. The separation of the Church of England and the state is long overdue. We need to reflect Britain as it is today, not what it was back on the 1500s.

"No one will have their freedom and right to religion undermined but my bill will ensure the Church of England is just one religious institution amongst many and not able to use the levers of state to force its beliefs on others who have different views.

"I look forward to arguing the case to finally change this historical quirk and separate religion and governance in our country."

Lord Scriven's bill is to be introduced after it was selected from the House of Lords private members' bill ballot. Private members' bills rarely become law but often generate publicity for their cause.