Established church hinders religious freedom, NSS tells UN expert
Posted: Tue, 30th May 2023
The NSS has told a UN expert that lack of separation between Church and state is undermining freedom of religion or belief in the UK.
The National Secular Society has told a United Nations advisor that lack of separation between Church and state is undermining freedom of religion or belief in the UK.
The Church of England's established status gives it "distinct privileges, to the detriment of the rights of others", the NSS said in a submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.
The Special Rapporteur Nazila Ghanea, who advises the UN on human rights, has launched a call for inputs on the promotion of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, or belief at the national and local level. Submissions will inform her thematic report, which is to be delivered to the 78th session of the UN General Assembly in September.
In its submission, the NSS said the Church's privileges, including bishops in the House of Lords, the head of state as its supreme governor, and its prayers in parliament and councils, mean members of other religions and beliefs are treated "unequally - one could say as second-class citizens".
The NSS said education "is perhaps the most prominent area of public life in the UK where religious privilege means freedom of thought, conscience, religion, or belief is significantly undermined".
It highlighted how legally-imposed collective worship in all schools has been repeatedly criticised by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child because imposing worship in schools conflicts with children's and parents' freedom of religion or belief.
It also criticised state-funded faith schools for their inherently discriminatory nature, and how they undermine religious freedom by "compelling families to profess a faith or engage in religious activities against their better wishes" in order to get into local faith schools.
Addressing the Special Rapporteur's question on "the need to respect freedom of religion or belief while countering violent extremism or terrorism", the NSS said it was "concerned by the emergence of speech laws to restrict expression considered subjectively insulting, abusive or offensive".
It said states should provide "a robust protection of free speech to ensure everybody's right to free expression" and freedom of religion or belief is fully respected.
NSS: "Separation of religion and state is the only way to truly realise FoRB for all"
NSS head of campaigns Megan Manson said: "Protecting everyone's freedom to hold and express religious or non-religious beliefs equally is key to secularism.
"Unfortunately, thanks to the presence of the established church, the UK is falling behind on freedom of religion or belief.
"We see this not only in the Church's uniquely privileged place in our corridors of power, but in many other aspects of public life. It's particularly visible in our education system, where legally-imposed daily worship in all schools and one third of all schools being faith schools increasingly undermine equality and religious freedom in our diverse communities.
"Separation of religion and state is the only way to truly realise freedom of religion and belief for all."