The Census Campaign Launches October 7, 2010

The Census Campaign Launches

Yesterday, the British Humanist Association launched the Census Campaign:

The 2001 census introduced a new question on religion. It was a single, closed, leading question –- “What is your religion?” –- which produced a very high measure of religiosity compared to all other surveys. Millions of people were counted as religious when their “religion” was only a nominal, cultural affiliation, or just a habitual response to ticking “Christian”.

It’s a simple, yet important, campaign. The BHA is making a simple request:

If you’re not religious we recommend ticking ‘No religion’ for the Census 2011 question on religion.

Ticking ‘No religion’ is better than leaving the question unanswered because this way you count. And it’s better than answering with the religion you were brought up in if you don’t believe in it anymore and don’t think organised religion speaks for you.

It’s that easy. Why on earth would anyone not participate…?

Well, I’m sure there are a few reasons, but they’re all stretches. Just check the box. And let them know you exist.

Why is this so important? The BHA offers a few reasons:

  1. It is important that the Census generates accurate figures. It is used to legitimise resource allocation and policy. The more people tick the ‘No Religion’ box, the less inaccurate ‘evidence’ there is that government should listen to religious groups and leaders over and above other groups within society.
  2. There will be no negative repercussions on you personally if you do. The Census is not interested in you personally- it is used to find general themes in the population. Although it is not anonymous, personal data will not be traced back to you in any analysis so there should be very limited issues about privacy.
  3. You will be affected by negative use of the data. Social policy, services and government action affects everyone.
  4. This may be the last Census ever held- if we get inaccurate data we may be stuck with it forever!
  5. An increased percentage of non-religious people will mean an increased voice for your issues as a non-religious person in society, particularly in equality work and education.

There’s plenty more information on the website. While you’re reading that — or if you don’t live in Britain — you can also donate to the campaign so that they can advertise the hell out of this.

Stop making excuses and check the box.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Eilonnwy

    Unfortunately, I likely count towards Catholicism. I live with my mother and she did the census a while ago. I doubt she was diligent in noting that one of her daughters is an atheist. :/

    Edit: Ohh, I thought this was the American census. That’s what I get for not reading closely.

  • NFQ

    Buh… “This may be the last Census ever held- if we get inaccurate data we may be stuck with it forever!” … Seriously? Why is Britain considering stopping taking census data? I looked around their site a bit for more info about this, but couldn’t find any … sorry if it is widely known already. This just strikes me as very surprising.

  • Peregrine

    If Britain goes the way of Canada, and makes the long-form census voluntary, the data collected could be pretty much pointless anyway.

    Yet another reason to get rid of Stephen Harper… but I digress.

  • VXbinaca

    I’ll have to read up if on if religion is asked about on the census here in the US.

    Interesting post though.

  • Tim

    I hope the same question is on the U.S. census…America is even worse when it comes to religion mixing dangerously with government. If all us nonbelievers ticked “no religion,” they might not be able to deny our presence any more. It would be great to get a more concrete statistic of how large we really are, too.

  • Erp

    The US Census never asks about religion. You have to look to the polling groups such as Pew for how Americans break down religiously. For example

  • VXbinaca

    Thanks, Erp.

    I’ll point out that the US Census was used to imprison Japanese during WWII, well ontop of that executive order from FDR and the Sec. of War.

    I’m not so sure I want to put down on an official government document I have no god when we just got out of the Bush years and our current president is always invoking god or some such nonsense almost weekly.

  • JD

    “For God’s Sake”? Is that a play on a popular religious song? I hope so, because there’s enough (though likely unfounded) complaints about atheists invoking God’s name.

  • Steve

    Good! I think I put no religion in the last census, gets more complicated every time!!

  • Jim

    “This may be the last Census ever held”? Huh?

    Oh, right. The Rapture’s coming, end of the world and all that.

  • Stephen P

    No-one seems to have commented on the fact that ‘no religion’ is the first option in the list. What chance of that happening in any sort of survey in the US? I suspect it would be a write-in in many cases.

  • JulietEcho

    @ Stephen P – yeah, or listed as “other” instead of its own category.

  • I suppose you could also write in Humanist or Atheist, as that would be ever more clear to the census takers…

  • Miko

    You will be affected by negative use of the data. Social policy, services and government action affects everyone.

    Good to remember. For example, the U.S. used its census data to round up the Japanese-Americans and put them in concentration camps. With all of the negative stereotypes about atheists now and in the future, do you really want to make it easier for the government to identify you?


    If Britain goes the way of Canada, and makes the long-form census voluntary, the data collected could be pretty much pointless anyway.

    The data is pointless as it is. Partly because it’s well known that there is strong participation bias where certain groups are over/under-represented, partly because many people lie in their answers, and partly because the government has no need to know any of it so that it would be pointless data even if it were corrected accurately.

  • Gibbon

    That reminds me, when the next census here in New Zealand comes around, which is next year I believe, I will have to leave this question unanswered. For I refuse to have my life pigeonholed and forced to fit other peoples’ preconceptions.

  • Sue

    Last time we had a census, a lot of people wrote in ‘Jedi’ as a protest. I’m down as a Christian – I ticked the box automatically without thinking about it, due to having been raised Christian. I hope this ad campaign will encourage other people to think before doing the same.

    @JD: the ‘For god’s sake’ line is just something everyone says over here, regardless of belief, as it’s pretty much lost all its religious connotations. I say stuff like ‘Oh god’ and ‘god knows’ and ‘thank god for that’ all the time. Those less averse to swearing than me often replace god with the f-word.

    I like the poster – it gave me a laugh.

  • sophia b

    So this is the same question we have here (NZ), and I’ve never considered it to be a problem. What do they think would be a less leading question? Though it would be kinda cool if that was only a question they asked people over a certain age…instead of letting parents say their one-year-old is christian, for instance.

  • I’m glad to see “Pastafarianism” fits in the blanks.

  • Richard Craven

    I most certainly am an atheist. However, I don’t particularly resent the role played by religion in public life. So it does not really bother me that my irreligiousness is not officially taken into account. Moreover, I place a very high value on my personal privacy. To this end, I have openly and explicitly refused to complete both of the last two censuses, in the teeth of various threats of official sanction, none of which have ever been implemented. I now gather that 2011 will be the last ever census. This intelligence has stiffened my resolve not to participate.

  • naectegale

    Hi. I live in the UK and am following this campaign closely. It’s good to know the US are taking an interest.

    This may be the last census because of the disproportionate cost and the speed with which the data goes out of date – every 10 years isn’t frequent enough. They are looking at using other available information for the planning information they need.

    Leicester Secular society are ignoring the “ban” and going ahead with the campaign posters anyway

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