faith groups engagement government call for evidence
Society and Social Structures

Call for Evidence: How should the Government engage with faith groups?

The Prime Minister has appointed Colin Bloom (who may be known to some) as the Faith Engagement Advisor at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. He is charged with leading a review into how the Government might best engage with faith groups in England. Last week he launched a Call for Evidence to help provide both qualitative and quantitative data to support the work he is doing, and you are invited to contribute.

He is particularly interested in hearing from the following groups of people:

• Members of the public who identify as having a religion, or people who have a faith.
• Faith and Religious leaders (voluntary or professional) in places of worship or faith-based organisations and charities.
• Public sector workers such as civil servants, teachers, the police and those who work in healthcare.
• Anyone who is or has been engaged with the British Military in any capacity.
• Anyone who is or has been engaged in the Criminal Justice System in any capacity.

The Call for Evidence can be completed anonymously and has been purposefully designed to allow anyone who is uncomfortable sharing personal information to be able to provide their views anonymously. If, however, you wish to make yourself known, you are free to do so.

Colin Bloom will then “make recommendations to the Communities Secretary about how the Government can best celebrate and support the contribution of faith groups, break down barriers and promote acceptance between faiths, and promote shared values while tackling cultures and practices that are harmful”.

It will be interesting to see how ‘harm’ is determined and defined in this context. Would it be ‘harmful’ to our shared values if the Government were to adopt the recent proposal of the Law Commission to extend ‘hate crime’ to include a prohibition on cartoon depictions of Mohammed? Would the adoption of a back-door blasphemy code help to break down barriers or erect them? Would it promote acceptance or amplify alienation?

Colin Bloom’s initial proposal is to structure the review around 4 main sections:

1. To ask the question: “Are faith groups, places of worship and people of faith a force for good in society?”
2. To explore the extent to which government and its agencies have sufficient faith literacy and consider the partnership between faith groups and the State.
3. To looks at some aspects where harm might be caused through religious or faith-based practices, and review the government’s role in tackling them.
4. A set of recommendations for the government to consider and respond to.

Curiously, we are told:

The call for evidence will pose a series of questions around how those of all faiths, or none, perceive the government’s engagement with faith groups. Because the review is specifically about faith and religion, priority will be given to responses that fit within those parameters. However, space is given for respondents to share their views in a way that they feel is appropriate.

Perhaps we might begin with the political tendency to lump ‘faith groups’ in with secular philosophies, as though commitment to the Christian Faith were of no more significance than talking to trees. We do, after all, still have an Established Church in England, and the Government might occasionally express a little more understanding of the constitutional and cultural significance of that. While it is always useful to consider the reasoned atheist/agnostic and/or humanist views of those who adhere to no particular faith in respect of the role of faith in society, it is nonsense to consider the views of the National Secular Society – that is, those who are unequivocally anti-faith in respect of the role of faith in society – simply because eradication is not positive engagement. There is a distinction here between secularity and secularism: not all beliefs are equal, so the ubiquitous political category ‘Religion and Belief’ needs a little refining. It would, however, be very brave Communities Secretary indeed who dared to challenge the state orthodoxy in that regard.

This Call for Evidence takes about 15 to 20 minutes to complete, and the consultation ends on 11th December 2020. Alternatively, you may continue to express your cynicism, exasperation, doubts and despair in the chat thread below.