From today, posters bearing the slogan ‘If you’re not religious, for God’s sake say so’ should have been appearing on buses in major cities across England and Wales. But this latest initiative in the British Humanist Association’s (BHA’s) Census Campaign has been prevented on advice from the Committee of Advertising Practice that it had the potential to cause ‘widespread’ and ‘serious’ offence

In addition to the banners on buses in London, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Birmingham, Cardiff and Exeter, three posters planned for display at railway stations as part of the Campaign were also refused by companies owning the advertising space, who viewed them as too likely to cause offence. [These images can be viewed at www.humanism.org.uk/census-adverts]

Andrew Copson, chief executive of the BHA, is astonished that an everyday phrase should be deemed too contentious for public display. ‘It is a little tongue-in-cheek,’ he commented, ‘but in the same way that saying “bless you” has no religious implication for many, “for God’s sake” is used to express urgency and not to invoke a deity. This censorship of a legitimate advert is frustrating and ridiculous. The blasphemy laws in England have been abolished but we are seeing the same principle being enforced nonetheless.’

The BHA is now circulating its prohibited railway posters online and has revised its bus posters to read ‘Not religious? In this year’s census, say so’. These will be displayed from today on more than 200 buses as part of a campaign that also includes the distribution of 65,000 leaflets, local campaigning, and extensive online activity.

The Census Campaign is encouraging non-religious people who did not tick the non-religious box in the 2001 census to tick ‘No Religion’ in this month’s census. It aims to raise awareness of the severe impact that misleading census data has in policy-making and resource allocation. The campaign website (www.census-campaign.org.uk) and Facebook page have seen encouraging support and there has been growing media interest in the run up to the census.

Many people chose not to answer the question in 2001 and research has also demonstrated that many who ticked ‘Christian’ in 2001 did so for cultural rather than religious reasons and had no belief in god or habit of attendance at places of worship. Other, more specific, surveys before and since 2001 have demonstrated that the real figure for active believers is less than half of that produced in that year’s census. These census figures have been misused to justify a variety of local and national initiatives that include increasing the number of state-funded faith schools, increasing public funding for religious organisations, and the entrenchment of religious influence and individuals on government and in Parliament.

If the 2011 census creates a similarly inaccurate figure, the BHA fears it may lead to further exclusion and discrimination against non-religious people and greater imbalance of privilege for religious groups and individuals.

Mr Copson reiterated that the purpose of the campaign is not to offend, ‘The Census Campaign is not intended to dissuade those who hold strong religious beliefs. We are asking people to be honest and if they are not religious, to say so. Ticking “No religion” means that their voices will be heard and we will have a more truthful picture of what people really believe today.’


Background Information:

Print-quality images of the three prohibited railway posters and a bus displaying the adverts that will appear from 4 March can be downloaded at www.humanism.org.uk/census-adverts

The British Humanist Association is the national charity representing and supporting the interests of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.

The Census Campaign website, with links to social media and fundraising sites, is at www.census-campaign.org.uk.

The British Humanist Association website, with links to supporting surveys on religion and belief, is at www.humanism.org.uk.

The British Social Attitudes Survey (BSA) has been published annually by the National Centre for Social research since 1983. The 27th report was published in 2011:

  • Those who profess no religion have risen from 31% to 51% between 1983 and 2009.
  • In 1983 66% identified as Christian, in 2008 the number was 43%.
  • In 2008 37% of the UK population are sceptical, 35% have definite or doubtful.
  • In 2009 only 17% of the British population attend religious services at least monthly, and only 11% attend at least weekly.
  • Those self-described as members of the Church of England consist of 20% of the population in 2009 (40% in 1983). In 2008, it was found that 49% of this group never attend services; only 8% of people who identify with the CofE attend church weekly.
  • 62% of people in Britain never attend a religious service.

For further comment or information contact BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson andrew@humanism.org.uk on 07534 248596, or BHA Head of Public Affairs, Naomi Phillips naomi@humanism.org.uk 07540 257101.

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Naomi Phillips, Head of Public Affairs, British Humanist Association. Email: naomi@humanism.org.uk Telephone: 0044 207 079 3585 Mobile: 0044 7540 257101

British Humanist Association (BHA)


About Us

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.