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Elizabeth I famously declared that she had “no desire to make windows into men’s souls”. The Office of National Statistics has taken a different view and, once again, the Census has a question on religion. As in 2001, this decision has produced more heat than light.

The British Humanist Society lead with “If you’re not religious, for God’s sake say so”, which was promptly banned by the Advertising Standards Authority at the instigation of the people who own the advertising space.  It seems that the latter didn’t want the business and the former is incapable of telling the difference between an honestly held, if bizarrely expressed, opinion and an overblown claim for a dodgy face cream.

The National Buddhist Organisation, meanwhile, was encouraging people to “Tick the Box for Buddhism”.

Although the headline debate is couched in atheism v. religion terms, a careful reading of the ONS’s report on this question shows that it is mainly concerned with groups such as Sikhs and Jews and the makeup of some minority ethnic communities. In other words, like much of the census, it’s aimed at ensuring that policy takes account of everyone – not just those with the loudest voices, the most visible presence or the most fashionable supporters.

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