by Guy Otten
Draft AtheismUK Position Statement
The Disestablishment Bill
A private member’s bill to disestablish the Church of England was introduced into the House of Lords by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Scriven on 6th December 2023.
The text of the bill can be seen via Disestablishment of the Church of England Bill [HL] – Parliamentary Bills – UK Parliament
The Objects of AtheismUK
The objects of AtheismUK include the promotion and normalization of atheism in the UK. In pursuing this object, AtheismUK supports the principle of the Separation of Church and State. To achieve this AtheismUK demands the secularization of the UK’s constitution and of its political and social institutions, and the removal of privileges attaching only to the Church of England.
Note that except for those provisions affecting the UK as a whole (such as the removal of bishops from the House of Lords), this bill does not affect Wales where the Church of England was disestablished in 1920, Northern Ireland where the Church was disestablished in 1869, or Scotland where the Church of England has never been established.
AtheismUK published a blog on Disestablishment in February 2023 with a link to a more detailed paper on the subject entitled ‘Time to Disestablish the Church of England’. This Position Statement should be read in the light of that blog and paper. This bill does not go as far as AtheismUK would like; it should be seen as a first step.
Lord Scriven’s bill has just 4 clauses. If passed into law it would not itself complete the Disestablishment of the Church of England; the church is too embedded into the life of the UK to achieve that result in one short statute. Instead, it provides (a) for the setting up of a Committee on the Disestablishment of the Church of England and (b) makes some immediate changes such as removing the bishops from the House of Lords, removing the titles ‘Defender of the Faith’ and ‘Supreme Governor of the Church of England’ from the Monarch and removing the power of the Church Synod to present legislation to parliament.
The Committee set up under the Act would have the duty to publish and present to the Secretary of State the legislative proposals it considers necessary to fully disestablish the Church of England. The paper linked to the blog published by AtheismUK in 23rd Feb 2023 gives an idea of the reach of Church establishment and the need to consider how each area can be reformed.
AtheismUK broadly supports this bill as a good start; we urge our members and supporters to contact peers and their own MP to ask them to support the bill and ensure it is not lost through lack of time or filibustering tactics by any opponents.
If you agree with this analysis, join AtheismUK to increase our ability to influence the public debate.
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