UK Prime Minister Cameron triggers backlash after Christianity comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron (C) lights a candle as he visits the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem March 13, 2014. Cameron is on a two-day visit in the region. He held separate talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas, who are at odds over U.S. proposals to keep peace talks going beyond an April target date for an agreement.

Pronouncements by Prime Minister David Cameron that Britain is a "Christian country" have drawn the ire of public figures including scientists and writers who accuse him of fueling sectarianism.

They object to the "characterisation of Britain as a 'Christian country' and the negative consequences for politics and society that this engenders."

They said, "It needlessly fuels enervating sectarian debates that are by and large absent from the lives of most British people, who do not want religions or religious identities to be actively prioritised by their elected government."

The group of 55 public figures from different political backgrounds accuse Cameron in a letter to the Daily Telegraph newspaper of fostering "alienation" and actively harming society by repeatedly emphasising Christianity.

The letter follows a series of public statements in which Cameron strongly voiced his own faith.

In the Church Times, an Anglican newspaper, the Prime Minister said last week Britain should be openly "evangelical" about its Christianity.

Cameron said at an Easter reception earlier in April he was "proud to be a Christian myself and to have my children at a church school."

The first signer is Professor Jim Al-Khalili, an Iraqi born physicist and author who is also president of the British Humanist Association, an organization that promotes a secular society.

The signatories wrote, "We respect the Prime Minister's right to his religious beliefs and the fact that they affect his own life as a politician."

They said, "Apart from in the narrow constitutional sense that we continue to have an established Church, Britain is not a 'Christian country.' Repeated surveys, polls and studies show that most of us as individuals are not Christian in our beliefs or our religious identities.

"At a social level, Britain has been shaped for the better by many pre-Christian, non-Christian, and post-Christian forces. We are a plural society with citizens with a range of perspectives, and we are a largely non-religious society."

Britain's 2011 census showed Christianity to be the biggest religion in England and Wales. The number of people, however, who described themselves as Christian fell from nearly 72 percent in 2001 to slightly over 59 percent, or 33.2 million people in 2011.

Some 14 million people said they had no religion.

The group who signed the letter to the Telegraph includes writers such as Philip Pullman, Terry Pratchett and Ken Follett, as well as Nobel Prize winning scientists, broadcasters and comedians,

They argue that members of the elected Government do not have the right to "actively prioritise" religion or any faith.

Copyright © 2014 Ecumenical News