The appointment of 13 ‘faith advisors’ to the government has been attacked by the National Secular society as “cynical” and “an insult to non-religious Britons”.
The charity warned that most people “disregard” religious teachings on issues such as homosexuality and said the appointment was undemocratic.
Communities secretary John Denham yesterday announced the names of the 13 advisors, who will take on the unpaid roles to advise the government on policy such as parenting and social justice.
Denham said: “This new panel brings together an unprecedented wealth of knowledge and experience that will help advise on the big issues facing society such as the economy, parenting, achieving social justice and tackling climate change.
“For millions of people the values instilled by their faith are central to shaping their behaviour. We should continually seek ways of supporting and enhancing the contribution faith makes to the decision-making process on the central issues of our time.”
But the National Secular Society criticised the appointment, saying that most people in the country “disregard or are even repelled by” religious teachings on issues such as homosexuality and abortion.
President Terry Sanderson said “undemocratic panels” should not be allowed challenge progress made in these areas.
He said: “With church attendance at an all time low after 150 years of decline, few people in this country regard religion as important to their lives. It is inappropriate for the government to invite specifically religious people to advise it on policy-making.”
Sanderson continued: “Religious leaders are out of step with the way Britons live. Most people in this country disregard and are even repelled by religious teachings on divorce, contraception, abortion and homosexuality. Polls show they don’t agree with the churches on voluntary euthanasia and a range of other issues.
“The non-religious majority will regard the implication of Mr Denham’s plan that religious people have some sort of ‘values’ that are missing in everyone else’s lives as insulting and patronising.”
None of the 13 advisors have any history of faith-based homophobia. One, Bishop of Leicester Tim Stevens, wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in 2003 to support the ordination of gay Bishop of Reading Canon Jeffrey John. John later rejected the post.
The members of the panel are:
Canon Dr Alan Billings – Formerly director of the Centre for Ethics and Religion at the University of Lancaster
Dr Harriet Crabtree – Director of the Inter Faith Network for the UK.
Marcia Dixon – Editor of Keep the Faith, a publication distributed to black majority churches.
Dr Doreen Finneron – Founder and director of the Faith Based Regeneration Network.
Jenny Kartupelis – Director of the East of England Faiths Council and Fellow of the Faiths and Civil Society Unit at Goldsmiths College.
Wakkas Khan – Director of the Exploring Islam Foundation and a founding member of the Radical Middle Way.
Alveena Malik – A principle associate at the Institute of Community Cohesion and a trustee of the Muslim Institute.
Mehri Niknam – Founder and director of the Joseph Interfaith Foundation.
Rosalind Preston – President of the Jewish Volunteer Network and Chair of Nightingale House.
Dr Jasdev Singh Rai – General secretary of the British Sikh Consultative Forum and director of the Sikh Human Rights Group.
Bishop Tim Stevens – Anglican Bishop of Leicester and Founder and chair of the Faith Leaders Forum of Leicester.
Arjan Vekaria – President of Shree Kutch Leva Patel Community (UK) and the Hindu Forum of Britain.
Prof Paul Weller – Head of Research and Commercial Development, Faculty of Education, Health and Sciences and professor of Inter-Religious Relations, University of Derby.