December 2015
Many of you may have seen in today’s newspapers responses to the publication of the report from the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life: Living With Difference —community, diversity and the common good

Initiated by the Woolf Institute in Cambridge, the Commission involved senior figures from a variety of traditions. Like so much of the interfaith work of recent decades, the commission’s report could have been just an open-hearted model of good listening.

The report is open-hearted but more than that the authors demonstrate courageous vision and leadership. They face reality. They recognise the changing zeitgeist and the wide new diversity of contemporary society. They openly challenge and demand that the establishment catch up with social reality.

As many of you know, I have a vested interest in all this. A few years ago I put a lot of energy into a project to get ‘holistic’ written into the religion box on the last Census. We failed at getting high numbers. But this report shows how right we were in our direction.

If you do not read the whole report, it will I hope be helpful for you if I copy and paste the major recommendations of the report, which you can read below.

The whole report is to be found click here

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From the Executive Summary of
The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life 

LIVING WITH DIFFERENCE
community, diversity and the common good

A national conversation should be launched across the UK by leaders of faith communities and ethical traditions to create a shared understanding of the fundamental values underlying public life. It would take place at all levels and in all regions.The outcome might be a statement of the principles and values which foster the common good, and which should underpin and guide public life.

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Much greater religion and belief literacy is needed in every section of society, and at all levels. The potential for misunderstanding, stereotyping and oversimplification based on ignorance is huge.The commission therefore calls on educational and professional bodies to draw up religion and belief literacy programmes and projects, including an annual awards scheme to recognise and celebrate best practice in the media.

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The pluralist character of modern society should be reflected in national and civic events so that they are more reflective of the UK’s increasing diversity, and in national forums such as the House of Lords, so that they include a wider range of worldviews and religious traditions, and of Christian denominations other than the Church of England.

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All pupils in state-funded schools should have a statutory entitlement to a curriculum about religion, philosophy and ethics that is relevant to today’s society, and the broad framework of such a curriculum should be nationally agreed.The legal requirement for schools to hold acts of collective worship should be repealed, and replaced by a requirement to hold inclusive times for reflection.

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Bodies responsible for admissions and employment policies in schools with a religious character (‘faith schools’) should take measures to reduce selection of pupils and staff on grounds of religion.

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The BBC Charter renewal should mandate the Corporation to reflect the range of religion and belief of modern society, for example by extending contributions to Radio 4’s daily religious  flagship Thought for the Day to include speakers from non-religious perspectives such as humanists.

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A panel of experts on religion and belief should be established to advise the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) when there are complaints about the media coverage in this  field.

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Relevant public bodies and voluntary organisations should promote opportunities for inter-religious and inter-worldview encounter and dialogue. Such dialogue should involve Dharmic as well as Abrahamic traditions, young people as well as older, women as well as men, and local groups as well as national and regional ones. Clergy and other opinion leaders should have a sound understanding of the traditions of religion and belief in modern society.

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Where a religious organisation is best placed to deliver a social good, it should not be disadvantaged when applying for funding to do so, so long as its services are not aimed at seeking converts.

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The Ministry of Justice should issue guidance on compliance with UK standards of gender equality and judicial independence by religious and cultural tribunals such as ecclesiastical courts, Beit Din and Shari’a councils.

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The Ministry of Justice should instruct the Law Commission to review the anomalies in how the legal definitions of race, ethnicity and religion interact in practice and make recommendations to ensure all religious traditions are treated equally.

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In framing counter-terrorism legislation, the Government should seek to promote, not limit, freedom of enquiry, speech and expression, and should engage with a wide range of affected groups, including those with which it disagrees, and also with academic research. It should lead public opinion by challenging negative stereotyping and by speaking out in support of groups that may otherwise feel vulnerable and excluded.