New Butler-Sloss religion report 'destroys our nation's defence against evil'

A new report into religion "destroys" our country's defence against evil and threatens our values, a leading Christian body warns today.

The report, which claims Britain is no longer a Christian country, has been roundly condemned by the Church of England, Government ministers and prominent faith leaders.

The inquiry into religion and belief in Britain, chaired by Baroness Butler-Sloss, calls for a "new settlement" for religion because the religious landscape has been "transformed" by a growth in non-Christian religions and numbers of people with no religion. It warns that society is threatened by "forms of hatred such as Islamophobia."

The report comes in the wake of over a decade of murders and hate-inspired horror killings by Daesh (Islamic State) and other Islamist-extremist groups around the world, including Britain.

The report, from the Woolf Institute, provoked immediate and furious attacks from Christian leaders, including an incensed Church of England.

Christian Concern was among those who responded with fury. In one of the most damning statements it has ever issued, Christian Concern said: "It destroys a solid foundation for strong values and defence against evil and replaces it with a foundation of sand that could swept away in a moment."

Baroness Butler-Sloss at the Royal Courts of Justice.Reuters

Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, said that there was a climate of "vandalism" against Christianity.

"All around us we are seeing the outworking of the cultural vandalism of our nation's Christian foundation. It's time to reverse that destruction. Who is it that really wants to diminish Christianity's place in our national life? Those who are most vocal in calling for further pursuit of the failed experiment of pluralism, are usually those who really see it as a vehicle for robbing us of the benefit of our Christian heritage."

She added: "In spite of the name, we should not confuse this commission with a public or royal commission. It has been appointed by a private body and its conclusions are not all that surprising given its make-up."

Contrary to the shrill claims of some secularists, religion is not going away, she said.

"This report suggests that we need more religion in public life but less Christianity. It fails to recognise the benefit and coherency that Christianity brings to our past, present and future."

She said: "Pluralism can only ever deliver greater fragmentation and confusion, as the last few decades should have taught us. We need a coherent narrative that is sufficiently robust to give us direction and real British values. For good reason, it's Christianity that has provided that for centuries and it's only Christianity that can provide it for the future.

"It is Christianity that has given Britain a strong sense of identity, purpose and direction whilst simultaneously making us hospitable and welcoming to others. Without Christianity we will lose both.

"We need to recover our confidence in our Christian heritage not continue to diminish and deface it further."

Cabinet ministers said it was "seriously misguided" and the Church of England said it appeared to have been "hijacked" by humanists.

Among its controversial recommendations the report says faith schools are socially divisive and that selection on the basis of belief should cease, that the collective act of worship in school assemblies be abolished, that the 26 Church of England bishops in the Lords be reduced and their places given to Muslim imams as well as rabbis and others, that the next coronation should be multi-faith. It challenges counter-terror policy at universities, arguing: "Free debate should be possible without fear of students being labelled as extremists or attracting the attention of security services." Thought for the Day, the BBC morning slot for faith-based reflection, should include humanist contributors as well, it argues.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is among the patrons of the commission.

A source close to Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, told the Telegraph the recommendations were "ridiculous". The source said: "Nicky is one of the biggest champions of faith schools and anyone who thinks she is going to pay attention to these ridiculous recommendations is sorely misguided."

The Church of England said they were "disappointed" by the report which "misunderstands" the role of its schools in providing a rounded education to more than a million pupils from all backgrounds as part of the church's commitment to the common good. "If there is a significant problem with our schools it is that many of them are so popular that they are oversubscribed and not every parent who wants to can send their children to one."

The report also misunderstands collective worship in schools, the church said. "We believe that if the law on collective worship were repealed schools would risk losing this vital element of shaping a community that reflects the full breadth of human experience. We know, for example, that the response of many schools to the horror of the Paris attacks will have been in the context of collective worship."

The report is dominated by the old fashioned view that traditional religion is declining in importance and that non-adherence to a religion is the same as humanism or secularism, the church added.

Nigel Genders, Church of England chief education officer, added: "No school is neutral and in our schools we want heads who can develop and promote the Christian character of the school, which is hugely popular with parents. But we don't recognise the implication in this report that schools are involved in mass discrimination."

Malcolm Brown, the Church of England's head of mission, condemned the report's "sloppiness" and suggested the commission had been "hijacked". He said: "Religion shows no sign of going away or allowing itself to be relegated to the private sphere." He added: "The common assumption that religion is in decline and can safely be relegated to the margins of our cultural life is simply wrong."

In the end, he says, the commission has become captive to a kind of liberal rationalism that is simultaneously hubristic and losing the wider argument. "What a sad waste of a glorious opportunity to exemplify the religious literacy that the report calls for in others."

Dr Jenny Taylor, of Lapido Media, said: "This report merely continues the half-century-long war of attrition against the Christian character of the country.

"By effectively saying that the public space is 'pluralist', it further privatises any one expression of faith as true. The report makes no attempt to acknowledge or appreciate the debt the nation's public life owes to Christianity.

"Perhaps the incoherence was unintended, but the outcome effectively makes a religion of having no religion-in-particular, and the effects of that are worrying. It is naïve to believe that a new set of fundamental values to underpin public life can be determined merely by pooling the ethical aspirations of all faith and ethical traditions in the nation."