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- One of the rejected Census Campaign posters featuring a former “Jedi”
In the vein of the Atheist Bus Campaign, the British Humanist Association‘s Census Campaign slogan was to read “If you’re not religious for God’s sake say so”.
In the context it’s pretty obvious that that’s a play on words designed to make you stop and go “Whaaaa?” and draw you into the campaign. It would be pretty churlish to interpret the slogan as being in some way against religious people (it’s target audience is obviously non-religious people from the outset) or to interpret it as any kind of general admonishment of the public. Now, if a commercial company put out an ad saying “For God’s sake buy our brand of detergent you idiots” maybe there’d be a point that the advertisement was being rude and aggressive toward everyone reading it. But the ironic use of a common phrase simply to highlight the importance of the message is hardly “offensive”.
Unless you’re totally over-sensitive to the slightest reference to religion, that is. The planned ads (which the BHA has made available online) were rejected by advertisers after they got the thumbs down from the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP). Fortunately, bus ads with alternate wording are already on the streets.
Like the Atheist Bus Campaign, since the fundraising appeal launched last year the Census Campaign quickly seems to have influenced secular organisations around the world, with Census-related advertising (grappling with the under-representation of non-religious people) also due to appear in Australia and Ireland.
You can still donate to fund Census Campaign ads for this important campaign at www.justgiving.com/census.
The Census cuts the number of non-religious people in half. It also inflates the number of religious people, especially the number of “Christians” in the UK. This matters because the census data is used to justify claims like “this is a Christian country” in debates about ethics and policy, it’s used to bolster the number of ‘faith’ schools, and is even referred to in decisions about how taxpayer’s money is spent on “community” groups.
So here’s the plan:
…a national public awareness campaign which brings the slogan “IF YOU’RE NOT RELIGIOUS, FOR GOD’S SAKE SAY SO” to public prominence, with the tagline: “In the 2011 Census, tick ‘No religion’”.
And it’s here already! The British Humanist Association, who administered and supported the Atheist Bus Campaign from fundraising through to buses on the roads, have today launched The Census Campaign.
The Census Campaign is an evolution of the tongue-in-cheek zing of the Atheist Bus slogan, which was all about responding to loud and silly religious advertising and then thousands of atheists wanting to be heard against a background of inflated media and government obsession with religion. The new Census Campaign takes that energy and aims it firmly at the distinct, representative issue of the census for the non-religious in the UK.
Policy is made (such as increasing the number of ‘faith’ schools) and resources are allocated (such as money for religious ‘community’ groups) with reference to census data. And yet the question on religion, is a single, closed, leading question which we know produces far higher figures for religious believers than any other reputable research. In particular it includes many people who are actually non-practicing or who do not believe at all, and who only answer give the answer ‘Christian’ out of habit or a loose cultural affiliation or because they were christened and they think that’s what they have to do on the census. With reference to the British Social Attitudes Survey, the Census Campaign estimates that the true number of people who are really non-religious is cut in half by the census.
The British Humanist Association lobbied to change the question in recent years, but after testing of other questions – which did return more accurate figures for the number of non-religious people in the UK – the Office of National Statistics knowingly chose to go with basically the same question that was used in 2001 (see The Story So Far). This means that the March 2011 Census stands to be just as inaccurate as last time, with the data used once again to back ridiculous arguments made often at the highest levels of government to the effect that more than 70% of the country is “Christian” in any meaningful sense.
The Census Campaign wants to change all that by raising awareness: that the religion data collected in the census has consequences, that we should therefore answer the question, and that non-religious people should answer by ticking the provided “No religion” option (rather than writing in anything else, including “Jedi” or “atheist” or “humanist” – and definitely not by selecting a religious option which doesn’t represent their real views at all).
This is an amazing, unusual and worthy campaign and there’s loads to do.
If you’re not religious for God’s sake say so!
The Advertising Standards Authority will release its annual report later today. And we know what will be in it.
The report will show, as we already knew, that some people complained about the Atheist Bus Campaign. In fact it was in the “top 10″ most complained about ads for last year.
But guess what else? A lot more people complained about one of the Christian bus ads that were run as a counter-response. And when we say a lot, we mean more than any other non-broadcast advert, ever.
Obvious mock-up released by the Christian Party ad – you didn't like this so much
The Christian Party bus ad, which parodied the Atheist Bus Slogan with the message “There definitely is a God. So join the Christian Party and enjoy your life” provoked the public ire with more than 1,000 complaints already by March last year.
Christian Party policies include an end to the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools, making sex education worse, being anti-abortion, being anti-assisted dying, and obscurely campaign to “raise the motorway speed limit to 90mph”. They received 18,621 votes in this year’s General Election. That’s not great.
As with the atheist bus campaign the ASA rejected all complaints against the Christian Party ads, saying they were an “expression of the advertiser’s opinion and that the claims in it were not capable of objective substantiation”.
As if religious wars, volcanoes, and tape worms weren’t substantiation enough for the claim “there’s probably no god”, the Christian Party has now sealed the deal. Thanks Christian Party!
Has the Cardiff billboard only just gone up? Might explain why we haven’t seen any photos to date.
Billboard on Merthyr Road, Cardiff
We’re just over an amazing 70% of the way to the BHA’s No Faith Schools fundraising target in just a few weeks – maybe Cardiff will give us a boost to the top?!
Ok, not everyone is a critic. Some recent blog posts we noticed below. Also see BHA page on Your Support.
Left Outside: “Children are innocent, they are yet to develop the power to choose for themselves, and so it is unfair to arbitrarily label them with the philosophical beliefs of their parents.”
Always win when you’re singing: “just as most of us turn away from pushy parents, who make it impossible for a child to give up an activity, however much they might dislike it, so it cannot be right for a parent to try and force a child to follow a faith.”
Friendly Atheist: on Ruth Gledhill’s article; “Clearly, they couldn’t get past the kids’ images to read the words written on the ads. These are not Christian children. They are the children of Christian parents. Get. It. Right. And stop labeling them.”
Vraie Fiction: “I grew up in a school system that was labelling us as Catholics before we could even understand what it meant and what ideology it was defending. I wish we had then a healthy dose of secular reflection introduced in the public space, it might have freed my mind then.”
The BHA has a page called “Responses to Our Critics” in relation to the Please Don’t Label Me Campaign, on which Stephen Wang in the Times now appears.