A new report about the relationship between faith and state in the UK is due to be released soon, and it could well ruffle some feathers.
A wide-ranging report into the relationship between religion and the state in the UK is set to be released in the coming weeks. The “Independent Faith Engagement Review” has been compiled by Colin Bloom, the former head of the Conservative Christian Fellowship (an organization within the Conservative Party that aims to “inspire and equip believers to go into public life”).
Bloom’s remit was to “make recommendations to the Communities Secretary about how the government can best celebrate and support the contribution of faith groups, break down barriers and promote acceptance between faiths, and promote shared values while tackling cultures and practices that are harmful.” Four years in the making, the report has involved a call for evidence from the public and from experts in the field on the government’s engagement with faith organizations. This has also included conversing with secular groups.
Although Bloom will unsurprisingly look at religion’s positive impact (especially with regard to the pandemic when many places of worship were closed), there is reason to believe the report will include some “interesting and controversial recommendations” that will deal with the idea that certain faith groups are causing harm. As The Guardian recently reported: “Many of his conclusions chime with those of his boss, Michael Gove, who has said for years that he believes Muslim madrasas in particular help foment radicalism—claims that have been disputed by Islamic organizations.”
One person familiar with the report told the paper, “I have never seen a report on religion and the state which is this comprehensive. Colin [Bloom] has gone in depth into many areas of public and religious life from which ministers normally stay well away.”
It is thought it will suggest that “ministers should be more aggressive in tackling oppression, violence and radicalization in religious settings.” Issues that Humanists UK and the National Secular Society have long been campaigning about will also feature, such as unregulated faith schools, religious nationalism, and forced marriages.
The report could provoke a backlash from religious leaders, particularly in Islamic communities. However, such findings may fall in line with Gove’s previous calls for stricter oversight of Islamic groups.
The initial proposed structure was in four parts (though it may end up being different):
- the first section asks the question, “Are faith groups, places of worship and people of faith a force for good in society?”
- the second section explores the extent to which government and its agencies have sufficient faith literacy and considers the partnership between faith groups and the State
- the third section looks at some aspects where harm might be caused through religious or faith-based practices and a review of the government’s role in tackling them
- the fourth and final section will be a set of recommendations for the government to consider and respond to
Richy Thompson, Director of Public Affairs and Policy for Humanists UK, issued the following statement:
We were obviously disappointed when the Government decided to commission a review just into its faith engagement and exclude the largely non-religious population from its scope. There has never been a similar review into engagement with the non-religious. We hope that the final report will not repeat this mistake, by boosting the role of faith groups to the exclusion or detriment of others.
On the other hand, in the past the Government has sometimes been nervous about tackling problems caused by religious groups but those problems can extend to the most extreme forms of abuse. If this report is to see the Government change tack here then that is to be welcomed.
Though this report may end up causing a fracas among people in certain religious communities, these are conversations that are too often shied away from. The only worry is that Islam may be seen as the bogeyman, allowing Christianity a free pass.