The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life was convened in 2013 by the Woolf Institute, Cambridge, to consider issues of religion and belief such as those raised in recent media headlines. Independent of government, it is chaired by the Rt Hon Baroness Butler-Sloss of Marsh Green GBE, formerly president of the Family Division of the High Court. Its formal terms of reference are:
- to consider the place and role of religion and belief in contemporary Britain, and the significance of emerging trends and identities;
- to examine how ideas of Britishness and national identity may be inclusive of a range of religions and beliefs, and may in turn influence people’s self-understanding;
- to explore how shared understandings of the common good may contribute to greater levels of mutual trust and collective action, and to a more harmonious society; and
- to make recommendations for public life and policy.
The Commission has four patrons: Professor Lord Parekh, Professor Emeritus of Political Philosophy at Hull and Westminster; Sir Iqbal Sacranie OBE, formerly Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, former Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Woolf, formerly Lord Chief Justice. The members of the Commission represent a wide range of religious and non-religious views.
On 1 July, the Commission launched a National Consultation seeking views on the following general questions:
- Do you feel at ease with the diversity of modern British society in terms of religion and belief?
- Are the current systems of civil and criminal law in the UK satisfactory in relation to issues of religion and belief, and to the overlap between these and issues of race and ethnicity?
- Do the media accurately and helpfully portray issues of religion and belief, and communities and groups identified by religion or belief?
- Are issues of religion and belief well handled in the curricula of the UK’s systems of education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels, and in relevant systems of training and continuing development?
- Should faith-based organisations be involved in social and political action and, if so, in what ways and to what extent?
- How should disagreements be handled between and within different traditions and communities, and between these and other interests in public life and wider society?
There are additional questions within the consultation on specific topics: social change; law; the media; education and training; social action; and dialogue and engagement. The deadline for submission of responses is 31 October 2014. The Commission can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by snail at: Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, Woolf Institute, 12-14 Grange Road, Cambridge CB3 9DU,.
The Commission’s programme includes six weekend meetings from November 2013 to June 2015. It has scheduled five local public hearings arranged in Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds and Leicester and there will be two national public hearings – one in London and the other, focusing on young people, in Birmingham. It proposes to report in late spring or early summer of 2015.
This is obviously a very serious exercise and we propose to go away and think about the questions with a view to making a response of our own. Ideas for engaging with the issues raised might well surface on the blog from time to time…