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Big majority of Britons think religion should stay out of politics

As the census form plopped onto the doormats of most households this week, a major new piece of research has shown that only 54% of people in this country define themselves as Christian. More importantly, over two-thirds of respondents said they did not approve of religion and politics being mixed, or religion dictating policy-making.

The survey has been published by the Searchlight Educational Trust and was carried out by Populus. There were 5,054 respondents (much larger than the usual opinion poll, which usually questions around 1,000 people).

The poll also shows that as well as the 54% of people defining themselves as Christian, 35% say they had no religion and 7% were from other religions.

The survey runs to some 395 pages and the following detail was extracted from a summary compiled by the British Religion in Numbers website.

23% said that religion was important to them, with 55% disagreeing and 22% neutral.

Just 7% said religion was the most important element in their personal identity. This compared with 35% for nationality, 24% for country of birth, 16% for the city, town or village in which they lived, 7% for ethnicity, 6% for their immediate neighbourhood, and 5% for the country of residence, where different from that of birth. Religion was the second most important influence on identity for 8% and the third most important for 10%.

55% never attended a place of worship in their local community. 8% claimed to go at least once a week, 5% at least once a fortnight, 6% at least once a month, and 26% less than once a month. The official figures for church attendance, however, which are based on counting the number of people actually in the pews, indicates that respondents to opinion polls overstate their religious observance quite substantially. (A rough calculation by our Executive Director suggests the numbers claiming to be in Church on an average Sunday equates to around 14% – which is double the actual number as counted by the churches themselves.)

Only 23% thought that, by and large, religion is a force for good in the UK. 42% disagreed and 35% expressed no opinion.

A large majority of people in Britain are secularists, with 68% agreed that religion should not influence laws and policies in Britain, with 16% disagreeing and 16% neutral.

On a scale of 1 (= do not trust at all) to 5 (= trust fully), the mean respect score for local religious leaders was 2.95. This was lower than for the respondent’s general practitioner (3.98), the local headteacher (3.44), women’s institute (3.43), the local scout/girl guide leader (3.41) and the local branch of service organizations (3.31).

62% considered religious abuse to be as serious as racial abuse, but 38% viewed the latter as more serious.

60% believed that people should be able to say what they wanted about religion, however critical or offensive it might be. 40% thought there should be restrictions on what individuals could say about religion, and that they should be prosecuted if necessary. Significantly more, 58%, were in favour of limitations on freedom of speech when it came to race.

44% regarded Muslims as completely different to themselves in terms of habits, customs and values. Just 5% said the same about Christians, 19% about Jews, 28% about Hindus, and 29% about Sikhs.

42% said that they interacted with Sikhs less than monthly or never, 39% with Jews, 36% with Hindus, 28% with Muslims, and 5% with Christians. There were a lot of don’t knows for this question.

59% did not know any Sikhs well as friends and family members, work colleagues, children’s friends or neighbours. 55% said the same about Jews, 53% about Hindus, 41% about Muslims, and 8% about Christians.

32% argued that Muslims created a lot of problems in the UK. Far fewer said this about other faith groups: 7% about Hindus, 6% about Sikhs, 5% about Christians, and 3% about Jews.

49% contended that Muslims created a lot of problems in the world. Again, this was much less often said about other faith communities: 15% about Jews, 12% about Christians, 10% about Hindus, and 9% about Sikhs (tables 102–107).

25% viewed Islam as a dangerous religion which incites violence. 21% considered that violence or terrorism on the part of some Muslims is unsurprising given the actions of the West in the Muslim world and the hostility towards Muslims in Britain.

49% thought that such violence or terrorism was unsurprising on account of the activities and statements of a few Muslim extremists. 6% dismissed accusations of violence or terrorism by Muslims as something got up by the media (table 126).

On hearing reports of violent clashes between English nationalist extremists and Muslim extremists, 26% would sympathize with the former who were standing up for their country and 6% for the Muslims who were standing up for their faith. 68% would view both groups as bad as each other.

43% indicated that they would support a campaign to stop the building of a new mosque in their locality, against 19% who would oppose such a campaign, with 38% neutral.

In the event of such a campaign turning violent or threatening to do so, by the action of either of the disputing parties, 81% would condemn such violence but 19% would continue to support one side or the other.

Interviewees were asked to react to the possibility of a new political party which would defend the English, create an English Parliament, control immigration, challenge Islamic extremism, restrict the construction of mosques, and make it compulsory for all public buildings to fly the St George’s flag or Union Jack. 21% said that they would definitely support such a party and a further 27% that they would consider backing it.