Wednesday, 13 December 2006

Petition to Disestablish the Church of England

A short while ago the Prime Minister's office created a new web site E-Petitions that is for UK citizens to create and sign petitions. This is an effort provided with MySociety which builds websites that give people simple, tangible benefits in the civic and community aspects of their lives. Previously MySociety have created the such sites such as PledgeBank and TheyWorkForYou. I think they and the UK Government deserve commendation for this initiative.

I was initially concerned with their need to take your post code when you create or sign a petition but realise, especially bearing in mind this project is done with MySociety, that if online petitions are to carry any weight there must be a way of validating identities, avoiding spam and making sure only UK citizens are involved. This, for now, is as good as it gets.

There are also independent sites such as PetitionOnline but that is international or multi-national not UK specific. There is the danger of petition efforts being dissipated, so I would humbly suggest that, for UK petitions, one use the "official" one that we are discussing here. If E-Petitions rejects your suggested petition, then you still have alternatives, such as PetitionOnline, to make your case.

Now given the title and URL of this blog I wondered what was the most succinct and simplest concept that one could use the petition mechanism for, to raise issues to do with unfairness, injustice and hypocrisy in the UK - that is double standards and partiality - and with the broadest appeal. The only one that really occurred to me was to disestablish the Church of England. Bear in mind that an established religion is the one officially sanctioned and supported by the government of a country. Why sanction one over or another or any at all? Tradition, history, national identity? All are just excuses to support the establishment (pun intended) and disestablishment should in no way affect anyone's rights to have religion if they want to. Indeed disestablishment should make it easier and level the playing field. Anyway such a petition has just been created and I have written this post to support, provide publicity and encourage you to sign it. It is pretty much word for word what I would have come up with and this is a good sign, I hope, that others who would like this to be an issue to be publicly debated (which is the best we could hope for now in such a petition) will also find it unproblematic.

Such a cause is not without recent and substantial precedent. In Sweden in 2000 the Lutheran Church of Sweden disestablished, in 1978 the Roman Catholic Church in Spain disestablished, as it did in Portugal in 1976 and Paraguay in 1967. Around the same time the Eastern Orthodox Church disestablished in Cyprus. Today it is going on in Norway as a voluntary process and with the support of minority religions such as Islam. And the list goes on the further back you look. In fact the UK is looking like a real minority in this regard, in Europe, with both the Church of England and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland still established here. Since I live in England I cannot really comment on the Scottish situation and hope that that some fair-minded Scots would initiate their own petition.

So if you want to you want to preserve and enhance the freedom of and from religion, where everyone is able to practice their beliefs or otherwise without persecution or discrimination, where everyone is equal under the law, with government being impartial with respect to religion then you should sign this petition and tell others about it.

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Disestablish The Church of England and introduce a law to forbid the establishment of any religion.