Religion statistics are skewed – claim

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A HUMANIST campaigner is urging people to be clear about their religion when the census takes place later this month.

George Jelliss, of The Hastings Humanists, wants to make sure residents of 1066 Country don’t skew the statistics when it comes to filling in the ten-yearly Government survey of everyone living in the Uk. The questionnaire includes a question on religion and Mr Jelliss wants anyone who does not practise a faith to make that clear on the form.

He said: “At the previous census in 2001 many people who lead entirely secular lives put themselves down as being Church of England simply because that is the established church, and is still compulsorily taught in schools. The information from the census is used by government departments when deciding on allocation of resources so it does have quite serious consequences.”

In 2001, out of 85,029 people in Hastings, 57,298 - 67 per cent described themselves as Christian, with 18,159 saying they had no religion (21 per cent). Nationally in 2001, Jedi become the fourth most popular religion as many declared themselves to be adherents of the supernatural “force” featured in the Star Wars films. It was more popular than Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism, and similar moves are afoot this year for people to register as “religions” based on Harry Potter and the Twilight books.

“This may be fun, at the expense of the bureaucrats, but it distorts the statistics. We want to make sure that if people are not religious then they say so,” Mr Jelliss added.

But Rev Chris Key, the rural dean of Hastings and St Leonards, said people should not feel put off expressing their religious convictions. He said: “Answering that question should be a moment where people consider seriously what faith they do have. If there is any faith they should tick that box, which is perfectly valid even if they don’t go to church.”

Although residents have to fill out the census, the question on religion is optional.

n The next meeting of the Hastings Humanists takes place at the Arts Forum, Marina, St Leonards, on Thursday March 10 at 6.30pm, and will be a roundtable discussion covering various topics including the census. Entrance for non members costs £2.50 - visit http://hastingshumanists.blogspot.com/ or call 01424 440749 for more information.