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Damn nation

Britain is no longer a Christian country and should stop acting as if it is, says a major inquiry into the place of religion in modern society.

The commission, chaired by the former senior judge Baroness Butler- Sloss and involving religious leaders from all faiths, says that the decline of churchgoing means a 'new settlement' is needed for religion in the UK, giving more official influence to non-religious voices and those of non-Christian faiths.

But the report was condemned by government ministers as 'misguided'. The Church of England said the report was a 'sad waste' and had 'fallen captive to liberal rationalism'. Its spokesperson argued that '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 Commission (on Religion and Belief in Public Life) also claims that faith schools are 'socially divisive' and that the compulsory daily act of worship in school assemblies should be abolished and replaced with a 'time for reflection'. It calls for a reduction in the number of Church of England bishops in the Lords and for giving places to imams, rabbis and other non-other non-Christian clerics as well as evangelical pastors.

Some of these views will be shared by Third Way readers, as might its central recommendation for a 21st Century equivalent to the Magna Carta to define the values of modern Britain instead of the Government's controversial 'British values' requirements.

'From recent events in France, to the schools so many of our children attend and even the adverts screened in cinemas, for good and ill religion and belief impacts directly on all our daily lives,' said Butler-Sloss.

'The proposals in this report amount to a new settlement for religion and belief in the UK, intended to provide space and a role for all within society, regardless of their beliefs or absence of them.'

The report stops short of calling for the disestablishment of the Church of England, arguing that the special status of Anglicanism has helped other faith groups and 'enables them to make their voice heard in the public sphere'. It goes on to call for all national and civic events - such as the next coronation - to be designed to reflect 'the pluralist character of modern society'.

For some the report does not go far enough. 'There are some sensible recommendations in the Commission's report', said Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, 'but there is no escaping that the Commission is composed of vested interests and is unlikely to make recommendations for any radical change. Disestablishing the Church of England should be a minimum ambition for a modern Britain in the 21st century.'

See Paul Vallely