Inter-faith Council to replace the monarch as Defender of Faith (to include non-religious beliefs)

Improving understanding between those of different beliefs is vitally important and has to be much more than ‘tolerance’. It needs to include atheism, humanism and other non-religious beliefs and I think there is a role for a body to set up with constitutional protection from interference by government, that promotes these values as core to our society.

The council would have delegates elected from its participating faiths and charged with taking responsibility for promotion of inter-faith matters eg for a national curriculum on awareness of world religions and beliefs, that all schools would be required to follow – including faith schools – alongside any religious teaching.

The core values that would bind this council together would be would be

1.       1. religion – or non-religious beliefs –  can be a force for good or for evil

2.       2. promoting understanding, respect for diverse beliefs is essential to the health of our society

3.       3. emphasising that faith in this country is a matter of personal choice

4.      4.  managing the dialogue and common values across different faiths is a continual process that can protect us from ideological fundamentalism

Prince Charles’s idea to become  ‘Defender of faith’ was an uncharacteristically smart move, but is unrealistic to be embodied in one individual – let alone a hereditary monarch. As a constitutional figure, he perhaps touched on something important about this function being ‘separate from the state and government’.

I believe that total separation of religion from the scope of a constitution would be a bad thing. Religion has such a powerful effect on societies that to ignore it within a constitution (other than promoting religious freedom and ‘tolerance’) is too passive. It does not recognise the historical evidence of the risks of the state thinking of religion as some sort of parallel universe that can be left to its own devices.

‘Freedom of Religion’ is an important starting point, but does not go far enough – it is silent on the need for promoting understanding across different beliefs and has been translated into the awful word ‘tolerance’ ( willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with)

A worrying feature of our times is the resurgence of religious intolerance and fundamentalism, which has led to ultimately led to acts of extremism. If we recognize the ‘thin veneer of civilization’ is in constant battle with ideological tribalism then there is a role that a constitution could play which defines what is meant by religious freedom and also takes definite steps to promote understanding, not merely tolerance

This is not new –history is littered with outbreaks of  religious hatred and blood-letting in communities that had lived together peacefully for centuries.

It is important to included non-religious ‘faiths’ who follow an ethical code to be part of the Council eg Humanists. The Humanists can freely hold that region doesn’t provide the answers ‘for them’, but their ethics of human and social conduct have a lot in common with the major world religions

The mission of the council could perhaps  include the following:

1.       To agree to support the principles of the British Constitution within the framework of their own religious beliefs in particular that religion is a matter for individual choice

2.       To partake actively to find common values across their faiths and promote understanding and integration across different communities

3.       To use the findings of the council to inform how their own religion or beliefs are practiced within the UK

4.       To contribute towards setting of the national curriculum that describes the history of religion, atheism etc and the good and bad things that have been conducted in its name

5.       To highlight the risks of exclusive ideology – in particular any teachings that imply those of other faiths may be regarded as ‘lesser human beings’

6.       To actively seek to address the causes of fundamentalism and remove radical teaching that incites violence or hatred

References to organisations that are trying to promote inter-faith understanding:

Interfaith council proposal at the UN

and the presentation – excellent summary of what it’s about – the good and bad potential of religion. Its key message is the vital role of dialogue, good leadership and cooperation. But it does not give a seat at the table for non-religious beliefs. The 2010 presentation to the UN is particularly relevant:

Slides 21 – 23 explain how they believe a UN Interreligious Council would work. Slide 24 emphasises the need to teach children the ‘Wisdom of all cultures’. Slide 27 – 28 gives examples of common ethics across major religions.

The problem with UN is it is perhaps too detached for the guy on the street and has a history of making noble global declarations with little follow-up


This Canadian body sets out some ethical ‘beliefs’ that resonate strongly with what I think this is about – although I dislike the word ‘tolerance’. Also shows how a small group with different beliefs can come together to promote understanding to the greater benefit to society. Interestingly it includes and agnostic and an atheist

Inter-Faith Network

In the UK the Interfaith Network was established in 1987


doesn’t include non-religious bodies, but does include Druids and there website avoids the use of the ‘tolerance’ word

edited on Feb 20, 2015 by Cecilia Rossler
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