David Cameron has rejected calls from the Deputy Prime Minister to disestablish the Church of England.
Nick Clegg, who is an atheist, was speaking on his weekly radio phone-in programme. He said: “In the long run it would be better for the Church, and better for people of faith, and better for Anglicans, if the Church and the state were over time to stand on their own two separate feet.”
But Cameron disagreed, explaining that “our arrangements work well in this country”.
The Church of England’s role at the heart of the nation’s constitution has stood for nearly 500 years.
The Daily Telegraph’s political correspondent said that disestablishing the Church of England is a “demand of many atheists, who believe religion should have no position in the British constitution”.
The last Census of 2011 found 29,267 declared atheists, compared to 33.2 million people who identified as being Christian.
An editorial in The Times newspaper said that a “strictly godless state would feel alien to British traditions”.
“Secular fundamentalism, of a sort more prevalent in the United States, would seek to push religion out of the public square altogether”, it continued.
And a Daily Telegraph editorial also criticised Clegg’s calls for the Church’s disestablishment.
It said, “it would not only be incredibly difficult to accomplish in contemporary England, but also wholly undesirable”.
“Disestablish the Church of England and we would be a far poorer nation for it”, the editorial added.
National Secular Society president Terry Sanderson welcomed Clegg’s remarks: “At last, we have a high profile politician have the courage to say that separating church and state would be a good idea.
“None of the others dare say it, although it is quite clear that the time has come to do it”, he added.
Earlier this week, the Attorney General Dominic Grieve said that atheists who claim Britain is not a Christian country are “deluding themselves”.
He 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 a Christian country.