Bill to separate Church from state to be introduced in parliament

Private members’ bill to disestablish the Church of England selected in ballot.

  • Lord Scriven: ‘Separation of the Church of England and the state is long overdue’.
  • Bill introduced amid increasing criticism of Church and falling attendance.

Campaigners have welcomed a bill which would separate church and state.

A bill to disestablish the Church of England will be introduced in parliament, after being selected today from the House of Lords private members’ bill ballot.

The Disestablishment of the Church of England bill, to be introduced by Liberal Democrat peer Paul Scriven, would formally separate the Church of England from the British state.

Lord Scriven said disestablishment is “long overdue” and that the Church’s privileged position is “archaic and unacceptable”.

The bill has been welcomed by secularist campaigners, who have long opposed the lack of separation of religion and state in the UK. The National Secular Society, which has campaigned for disestablishment since its founding in 1866, said the established church is “simply unsustainable”.

Church power in monarchy and parliament

The Church of England’s established church effectively means it is the state religion of the United Kingdom.

British monarchs carry the title ‘Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England’. They must be full members of the Church of England and must take an oath to maintain the Church during their coronation.

In May, King Charles III took the oath while kneeling before a bible and kissing it at his coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey, led by archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

Additionally, 26 Church of England bishops are given seats as of right in the House of Lords. Iran is the only other sovereign state which reserves seats in its legislature for religious clerics.

The Church in Wales was disestablished in 1920. The Church of Scotland is not established but British monarchs swear to uphold it. King Charles did so at the Accession Council meeting as his first official act following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

The Church’s decline in public life

The 2021 census revealed most people in England and Wales are not Christians. The British Social Attitudes survey in 2019 found just 1% of 18-24 year olds say they belong to the Church of England, while the Church’s own figures show less than 1% of England’s population attend regular Sunday services.

The Church of England has attracted recent criticism over its refusal to allow gay marriages, its permittance of churches which ban female priests, its bishops’ interventions in politics, and its failure to safeguard children from sexual abuse.

Lord Scriven: “We need to reflect Britain as it is today”

Lord Scriven said: “In a modern and plural England, it is rather archaic and unacceptable that a privileged religious organisation is planted right at the centre of the way the state is organised and run.

“The separation of the Church of England and the state is long overdue. We need to reflect Britain as it is today, not what it was back on the 1500s.

“No one will have their freedom and right to religion undermined but my bill will ensure the Church of England is just one religious institution amongst many and not able to use the levers of state to force its beliefs on others who have different views.

“I look forward to arguing the case to finally change this historical quirk and separate religion and governance in our country”.

Supporting Lord Scriven, National Secular Society chief executive Stephen Evans said: “In our religiously diverse and increasingly secular country, the establishment of the Church of England is simply unsustainable.

“Disestablishment would remove religious privilege from the heart of our constitutional settlement and be a step towards a more inclusive, diverse, and equal society.

“We urge parliamentarians to support this bill as a commitment to fostering a society where all citizens are equally valued and respected.”