Atheists who claim Britain is not a Christian country are “deluding themselves”, the Attorney General Dominic Grieve has said.
Mr Grieve made the comments in response to a letter, co-signed by 55 public figures, which said “we are a largely non-religious society” and claimed that David Cameron is fostering “alienation and division” by labelling Britain as Christian.
Mr Grieve explained: “As I go around and look at the way we make laws, and indeed many of the underlying ethics of society are Christian based and the result of 1500 years of Christian input into our national life. It is not going to disappear overnight.”
He denied the idea that Britain is irreligious: “The evidence in this country is overwhelming that most people in this country by a very substantial margin have religious belief in the supernatural or a deity.
“To that extent atheism doesn’t appear to have made much progress in this country at all, which is probably why the people that wrote this letter are so exercised about it”, he added.
The work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith made similar comments, saying that those denying Britain is a Christian country are “ignoring both historical and constitutional reality”.
He questioned the idea that David Cameron’s remarks have “alienated” those of other religions.
Anil Bhanot, managing director of Hindu Council UK, said he was “very comfortable” with the UK being labelled a Christian country, and Muslim Council of Britain secretary general Farooq Murad explained that the UK has “deep historical and structural links” to Christianity and nobody could deny Cameron’s assertion.
Mr Duncan Smith remarked: “It is arguably our Christian heritage, with its innate tolerance and inclusivity, that has ensured the freedom of all voices – religious or non-religious – to be heard and to be valued.”
The former Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali criticised the letter, agreeing with the Prime Minister that “we need a moral and spiritual framework for our national life”.