The Prime Minister is fostering “alienation and division” by saying Britain is a Christian country, a group of scientists, philosophers, politicians and writers including Philip Pullman, has claimed.
In a letter to the Daily Telegraph yesterday, 55 public figures criticised David Cameron’s assertion that the UK is Christian, and said they objected to “the negative consequences for politics and society that this engenders”.
Cameron explained he is “proud of the fact that we are a Christian country” during a Downing Street Easter reception earlier this month, and in an article for the Church Times he highlighted “the role that faith can play in helping people to have a moral code”.
He also said we should be “more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives”.
But the letter, co-signed by atheist Sir Terry Pratchett, philosopher AC Grayling, gay-rights activist Peter Tatchell and others, warned that singling out Christian social action “needlessly fuels enervating sectarian debates”.
The letter said: “We are a plural society with citizens with a range of perspectives, and we are a largely non-religious society.
“Constantly to claim otherwise fosters alienation and division in our society”, it continued.
Bishop Nazir-Ali criticised the letter, agreeing with the Prime Minister that “we need a moral and spiritual framework for our national life”.
“He is also right to say that Christianity provides a surer basis for accommodating people of other faiths than secularism”, the Bishop added.
Both Hindus and Muslims in Britain have backed David Cameron’s comments.
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.
In the 2011 census, close to 60 per cent of the population identified themselves as Christian, whereas just 25 per cent claimed they have no religion.
Daily Mail columnist Stephen Glover accused the signatories of the letter to The Telegraph of being “divisive” themselves.
He asks his readers to look at Cameron’s original comments and the letter “and decide which of them shows more signs of reasonableness and tolerance”.
Writing in The Telegraph, author Toby Young also criticised the letter, saying the signatories are “members of the liberal metropolitan elite”, making them “morally as well as socially superior”.
He said there is “little wonder” they object to Cameron praising Christianity, because “anything that suggests there might be a higher source of authority than them when it comes to matters of right and wrong – is a direct challenge to their status”.