Don’t undermine secular nature of Remembrance, NSS urges government

Posted: Thu, 15th Feb 2024

Efforts to make remembrance resemble a religious service should be rejected, NSS says.

Sgt Dan Harmer, RLC/MOD, OGL v1.0OGL v1.0

The National Secular Society has warned the government not to interfere with efforts to make remembrance commemorations in the armed forces more inclusive of people of all religions and beliefs.

In a letter to Secretary of State for Defence Grant Shapps, the NSS said the government should not intervene in the army's efforts to ensure its acts of remembrance are secular and inclusive.

The NSS's intervention was prompted by a report in the Daily Telegraph that Shapps was "furious" about army guidance which recommends that acts of remembrance are "inclusive" and "seek to avoid being conducted as a wholly religious event".

The NSS said it was "vitally important" that remembrance commemorations are "equally welcoming and relevant to all", particularly in light of the UK's increasing irreligiosity and religious diversity.

It said secular monuments and ceremonies respect the "plurality of beliefs of those who gave their lives", and encourage the public to participate in remembrance commemorations instead of "alienating them by including unnecessary Christian liturgy".

The 2021 Census revealed Christians to be a minority in England and Wales, while less than 1% of the population attend Anglican services on a normal Sunday. In 2022, 36.1% of the UK's regular armed forces were recorded as nonreligious.

The NSS said the "special status of Christianity in our national remembrance commemorations" therefore looks "increasingly outdated and inappropriate".

The monument at the heart of remembrance commemorations, the Cenotaph, was intended and purposefully designed as a secular memorial. During its construction, the Cabinet explicitly rejected Church of England proposals that it should incorporate Christian inscriptions or a cross because to do so would disregard the different religions and beliefs of the war dead.

NSS: 'Remembrance must be welcoming to all'

Jack Rivington, NSS campaigns officer said: "Attempts to preserve the special status of Christianity in remembrance commemorations disregard the beliefs of the majority of the British public and risk excluding them from ceremonies which should belong to everyone.

"Keeping our national monuments and ceremonies secular is the best way to show respect for the diversity of belief and non-belief amongst those who gave their lives in war.

"The government should support the secular character of remembrance, not overrule Army guidance in order to reinforce Christian privilege."

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Tags: Public services