The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has announced a £400,000 programme to ‘strengthen faith institutions’. The fund will be available only to bid-winning charities to support the growth of ‘places of worship’ in Britain. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has criticised the project as a poor use of public money and discriminatory.
Justifying its decision, the DCLG stated that ‘Faith communities make a vital contribution to national life: they guide the moral outlook of many, inspire great numbers of people to public service and provide help to those in need.’ Fitting with previous comments made by senior Government ministers, including the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles, the impetus for this enormous spending drive appears to be an unsupported belief that religious organisations and people do more good for local communities than non-religious ones, and so are more deserving of public funds.
In the project specification, the DCLG provides the following list of areas where faith institutions could benefit from £400,000 in public support:
- Finding suitable training, advice or support when needed
- Using social media effectively
- Learning of others’ approaches to problems and using them to improve practice
- Engaging with places of worship of other faiths
- Engaging with women and young people
- Being known by, respected and having strong links with the wider community
With the exception of ‘engaging with places of worship of other faiths,’ all of these needs are faced by all charities and organisations doing work in their communities. They are not unique to religious institutions.
Previously, the DCLG assisted with displacing an increasing number of public services to religious institutions, while at the same time neglecting to take care of a loophole which exempts religious organisations from the Equality Act and Human Rights Act, permitting them to discriminate against service users in ways that would be unlawful if done by mainstream secular organisations.
BHA Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns Pavan Dhaliwal said: ‘It is very worrying that Eric Pickles’ department should seek to funnel public funds into support for religious organisations on such transparently flimsy grounds. Of course many religious charities and organisations will do laudable work in their communities, but they by no means have a monopoly on community-building or providing support for the needy. Many cash-strapped charities right across the sector do precisely this, often without any support from Government at all.’
She continued, ‘Why should public funds be awarded to places of worship, and not simply to the best-performing and most deserving groups supporting communities, irrespective of religious affiliation? Not only does this latest initiative unfoundedly exceptionalise the positive contribution of churches and other religious organisations to community life, it is completely out of step with contemporary Britain, where surveys show that a majority of the population is non-religious, and in which even those who profess a religious faith do not feel it is a defining aspect of their identities.’
When will this madness end???