Humanists UK backs first reading of disestablishment Bill

The Disestablishment of the Church of England Bill had its first reading in the UK Parliament today. The Bill would disestablish the Church of England and remove the automatic right of bishops to sit in the House of Lords. Humanists UK, which campaigns for a secular state, welcomed the introduction of the Bill.

The Bill, introduced in the House of Lords by Lord Scriven, a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, would remove the Church of England from its position as the official state church. The bill faced some significant opposition, but eventually passed. The practice of having an established state church is becoming increasingly out of date, even in the UK. The Church of England was disestablished in Wales in 1920 and there has never been an established church in Northern Ireland as the Church was disestablished in 1869, before Irish independence. This is one of many archaic policies that still exist in the UK. Arguably, most egregious is the fact that 26 seats in the House of Lords are reserved for bishops of the Church of England. The only other state which has reserved seats for religious officials from a state religion is Iran.

As well as seeking to remove the automatic right for bishops to sit in the House of Lords, the Bill would remove the monarch’s role as Head of the Church of England.

This change will not interfere with the right to freedom of religion or belief. Indeed, in 2018 Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said that disestablishment of the Church of England would not be ‘a disaster’ for the Church, and is ‘a decision for parliament and the people’. He also said that ‘I don’t think [disestablishment] would make it easier [for the Church], and I don’t think it would make it more difficult’.

The recent British Social Attitudes survey demonstrated how unrepresentative our current system is. Only 12% of people consider themselves Anglican. What’s more, 68% of 18-24 years old say they belong to no religion versus 18% saying they are Christian – including only 0.7% saying they are Anglican.

The bill will now move onto its second reading, though no formal date has yet been set.

Humanists UK Director of Policy and Public Affairs, Kathy Riddick said:

‘Humanists UK welcomes the introduction of this Bill. In a modern, diverse society, it’s crucial to separate religion from state governance, allowing for genuine equality of all religions and beliefs. Disestablishment would mark a crucial step towards a fairer, secular state, ensuring that public institutions remain neutral and inclusive.’