Offensive humanist census ads go on display in malls

Humanist posters, previously blocked for carrying an offensive slogan, are now on display in shopping centres despite advice from the advertising watchdog.

Malls in West London, Ipswich, Tunbridge Wells, and Poole are displaying the ads, which aim to reduce the number of people claiming to be Christian in the national census.

The posters, produced by the British Humanist Association (BHA), carry the slogan: “If you’re not religious for God’s sake say so”.


The Advertising Standards Authority’s Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) said that the slogan was potentially offensive and recommended dropping the words “for God’s sake”.

Following CAP’s advice, the posters were blocked from being displayed at railway stations.

But advertising agency VMG Global has stepped in to display the posters, with the slogan in full, on high visibility animated screens in shopping centres.


A spokesperson for VMG said: “VMG are delighted to help the BHA in its Census campaign by running the original, uncensored ads on our shopping centre screen network.

“We cannot see anything objectionable in the advertising copy. How this could cause anyone serious offence is a mystery to us.”

Chief Executive of the BHA Andrew Copson said: “It is clearly not the case that any and all humorous references to religion are ‘offensive’ and there is nothing shocking or mean-spirited about employing a common phrase which happens to reference the subject matter. Sensible advertisers know this.


“And indeed religious people have not been complaining to us, or as far as we know to anyone else about the campaign slogan itself, which has already appeared on buses and billboards.

“The slogan doesn’t target religious people, nor even criticise religion or religious belief – not that that should be a problem, either. Underscoring the point you are making with a pun is not offensive.”


Referring to the religious affiliation census question Peter Benton, Deputy Director of the 2011 Census, said earlier this month: “There are different concepts that you can measure in relation to religion” including religious practice, belief and affiliation.

“And when we’ve talked to the people that use the census data”, he added, “the one that matters most to them is religious affiliation”.

He concluded: “we could have chosen to measure some of the narrower aspects but it was a deliberate decision not to.”


According to the last census, for every one atheist/humanist in England and Wales there were 2,037 people who identified themselves as Christian.

The number of atheists and humanists in the 2001 Census in England and Wales was only 18,654, while those who said they were Christian in England and Wales numbered 38 million – 71 per cent of the population.

Last year the Integrated Household Survey, prepared for the Office of National Statistics, analysed the responses of almost 450,000 adults and revealed that 71.4 per cent of the population identify themselves as Christians, a figure similar to the 2001 census data.

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