Archive for September 2010

The old rugged cross: ban or cherish?

September 13, 2010

We’re just working on the October edition of Vista, our quarterly research bulletin. The theme is secularisation and we’ve been researching how the personal or institutional display of a crucifix is increasingly a focus for social policy legislators. It may be too early to predict patterns, but the forthcoming ruling from the European Court of Human Rights may prove important to this whole debate (read more about that below). Our attention to the public displaying of crucifixes follows last quarter’s look at the wearing of Burqas in public. A quick round-up of recent decisions regarding the wearing or displaying of crosses in public  includes:

  • In October 2006 a British Airways check-in worker was banned by her employers from wearing a small crucifix around her neck. Of Egyptian ethnicity, Nadia Eweida, was told by BA that the wearing of all publically visible jewellery was forbidden by the company.
  • In January 2007 Robert Napier School in Gillingham, Kent, ordered a 13 year-old Roman Catholic schoolgirl, Samantha Devine to remove her crucifix at school because it posed a health and safety risk. The school indicated it would be happy with a cross worn in Samantha’s blazer lapel.
  • In December 2008 a Spanish court ruled that it was inappropriate for a state school to display crucifixes in its classrooms. Earlier that year, the Spanish Evangelical Alliance had supported the omission of crucifixes from public ceremonies and a law guaranteeing the religious neutrality of public officials.
  • In November 2009 the European Court of Human Rights, sitting in Strasbourg, ruled that an Italian school’s refusal to remove the crucifix following the request of Finnish-born Italian Soile Lautsi that it be removed from her children’’ classrooms was a ‘violation of parents’ rights’ to educate children in accord with their convictions. The ruling was expected to have repercussions across all 47 Council of Europe member states. Italy appealed the judgement in June 2010 and awaits a final ruling.
  • In April 2010 a British nurse, Shirley Chaplin, lost her appeal to wear a crucifix at work. The Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust argued that the cross and necklace she had worn for over 40 years was a health and safety risk. The Trust suggested she wear a lapel pin or cross earrings.
  • In April 2010, a German First Minister, Aygül Őzkan who is of Turkish heritage, , called for a ban on crucifixes in state schools in Lower-Saxony and Germany. She withdrew her suggestions following criticism from members of the ruling CDU to which she belongs.
  • In June 2010 the Spanish Government introduced a draft Law of Freedom of Religion and Conscience which regulates the use of the crucifix, including its removal from public places such as schools, hospitals and council buildings. The Spanish EA interpreted the use of crucifixes in such places as evidence of a ‘confessional state’, something to which they remain opposed.
  • In June 2010 an Amsterdam appeal court ruled that the city’s public transport authority was within its rights to ban an Egyptian-born tram conductor from wearing a crucifix. The judge ruled that the transport authority was correct in imposing a ban on the basis that the crucifix was attached to a necklace, not the fact that it was worn visibly.
  • During August, 2010, in Roman Catholic majority Poland, 80% of respondents in an online poll of 11,000 urged the removal of a cross from the square in front of the Presidential palace commemorating the death of the former President in an air crash.
  • The BBC reported in August 2010 that in Greece, the human-rights NGO, Helsinki Monitor, has urged Greek Courts to remove icons from its chambers and drop the practice of requiring witnesses to swear oaths on the Bible.

We’ll also summarise the reasons for and against displaying crosses in public. If you’d like to receive a copy of Vista by email please contact us at or

French cultural exchanges and Christian mission

September 13, 2010

A colleague working for the Church Mission Society, Sas Conradie, reports on an exchange visit from his home town of Uckfield to its French twin town near Dieppe and reflects on the value of such trips for Christian mission in Europe.

“We visited the twin town of Uckfield (our home town in East Sussex) near Dieppe as part of a group of our town’s twinning association. Dieppe’s international kite festival started on Saturday, so we were able to see that as well. This was definitely one of the most wonderful weekends we had for a very long time. It is still strange to think that one can get off a ferry at 4am on a Saturday in a place one has only seen on a map, staying with people one has never even heard about and then leave 36 hours later as good friends having becoming part of their community as well. We stayed with the French sales manager of a Nestle subsidiary that has their headquarters near Dieppe. He is managing about 2,800 sales people across France. It was fascinating to hear him talk about business approaches in different parts of the France. These say so much about the different cultures in France. For example in the north, you can take somebody at their word without them even writing it down. In the southeast near Nice and Cannes, ten signatures on a document still mean nothing because people might do the opposite. People near the German border want to have their own business representatives because they do not trust anybody else. I’ve never been involved in mission in France, but I thought that we can learn much from this new friend of ours in how to engage in mission in different parts of France. I will definitely stay in touch with him.

The visit also showed just again the importance of Christians participating in these town twinning initiatives. We witnessed in France as part of who we are and not as part of a specific outreach. I think we need to encourage this more. The new friendships (in Arques and also the ones with the Uckfield group) are the experiences that we will most cherish in future. The spectacular kite festival and even the visit to the Commonwealth War Cemetery (which was very special to me as a South African) were just the cherries on the cake.”

The British public on Benedict’s social teaching

September 10, 2010

Theos reports today on the findings of a ComRes poll of 2,003 British adults in connection with the visit of the Pope.

Strikingly, despite popular disapproval about paying for his visit, a majority of the British public was in favour of eleven out of twelve of his ethical statements from the encyclical Caritas in Veritate. Theos notes that “a majority of the public even agree with some Catholic teaching about sexuality, with 63% agreeing that ‘It is irresponsible to view sexuality merely as a source of pleasure’.“

The full Theos news item can be viewed by clicking here and the data tables are accessible from that page.

Cross and Lotus – Buddhism in the UK

September 9, 2010

There may be as many as 46,000 ‘converts’ to Buddhism from Roman Catholic and Anglican backgrounds in the UK. This estimate is based on figures obtained from the British Religion in Numbers website, managed by David Voas and other members of the British Religion and Society project.

However, it is estimated that 82% of Buddhists in the UK were brought up by Buddhist parents, suggesting that the strongest indicator of Buddhist identity and affiliation is ethnicity.

In the 2001 Census, 144,453 people in England and Wales, 6,830 people in Scotland, and 533 in Northern Ireland ticked the Buddhist box. Most of these were born in the UK (66,522) with 56,040 describing themselves as ‘white’, 34,304 as ‘Chinese’, 13,919 as ‘Asian’, 1,507 ‘Black’, plus 38,683 ‘mixed’ or ‘other’.

Buddhism is the fifth-largest religion in the UK behind Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism. The first English translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead was published in 1927 whilst the 1935 reprint contained a commentary from Carl Jung. The Buddhist Society was founded in London in 1924.

Peter Brierley estimated in 2007, based on the 2001 Census figures, that half of those who self-described as ‘Buddhist’ can be considered active members of the Buddhist community. His projections for 2010, based on this assumption, estimate the active Buddhist community as 87,600. This would imply that the total number of those likely to self-describe as Buddhist in 2010 would be 175,200.

David Voas and others suggest, on the British Religion in Numbers Website ( that between 0.3-0.4% of the British population is Buddhist. The UK population was estimated by ONS at 61,972,000 in mid 2009 and this suggests an estimated figure of between 186,000 and 245,000, with 93,000 to 122,500 considered as ‘active’.

Other Buddhist data gleaned from the BRIN data:

  • 59% of Buddhists in the UK do not attend a place of worship.
  • 33% of Buddhists in the UK see Buddhist writings as myth and not literal history.
  • 18.8% of Buddhists in the UK can be described as ‘religious’ (but mainly due to the fact that one indicator of religious is ‘belief in God’. He describes the remainder of UK Buddhists as ‘fuzzily faithful’.
  • Buddhists in the UK are most likely to be aged between 35-44.

On the 16th October, the Faith to Faith Forum of Global Connections is hosting a day exploring Christian witness to Buddhists, including input from a former Buddhist nun who is now a Christian. You can visit their website for further details – just click here.

How important is religion to you?

September 9, 2010

At the end of August, Gallup released news of a 2009 survey examining the importance of religion for the population of 114 countries, based on telephone and face-to-face interviews. The global average for those who said that religion was important in their daily lives was 84% but this number dipped as low as Estonia (16%) and as high as Italy (72%) in Europe. Other European countries in the survey polled as follows: United Kingdom (27%) and 109th in the list of 114 countries. Denmark and Sweden were lower than the UK whilst France (30%), Germany (40%) and Spain (49%) were higher.

Further statistical  information and the Gallup press release are available by clicking here.