Nick Herbert: Britain is still a Christian country at heart

Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert
Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert

Two weeks ago, I joined the staff, governors and parents at Graffham Infants School as it regained its Church of England status.

The Bishop of Chichester led a service in the parish church followed by a celebration in the school.

It was remarkable that a school was returning to the Church after a 100-year break.

But of course many of our local schools enjoy this religious status, and are popular for it.

Provision of education across West Sussex is one of the most visible signs of the Church’s role in national life. But it does not stop there.

There are many examples of those driven by their faith to make a difference to their local communities.

The Prime Minister talked openly about his faith in an article to mark Easter, saying that “we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country.”

His words were challenged in a letter from around 50 prominent atheists to the Daily Telegraph, who asserted that “apart from in the narrow constitutional sense that we continue to have an established Church, Britain is not a ‘Christian country’.”

This was surely wishful thinking, if not wilful ignorance. That Britain is a Christian country is both an historical fact and a present reality. Indeed, the irony of theletter appearing on a public holiday to mark Easter seems to have been lost on the correspondents.

Christianity has been the majority religion in this country for well over a thousand years. It has directly shaped our laws, literature, art, architecture, music, manners, education and ethics.

Our Head of State – The Queen – is also Supreme Governor of the Church of England; Anglican bishops continue to sit in the House of Lords, and every session of the House of Commons begins with Prayers.

The Anglican cathedral in Chichester and the Roman Catholic cathedral in Arundel aren’t just monuments, welcome though the Chancellor’s recent funding for their restoration was. In the last census, 59 per cent of the public described themselves as Christian.

Reminding people of all this is emphatically not to diminish other faiths; nor should it provoke those of no faith, who are rightly free to lead their lives as they choose.

But at Easter of all times it is surely fair, as the Prime Minister did, to note our country’s indisputable Christian heritage.

If you would like to get in touch with me, please write to me at the House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA, or e-mail me at nick@nickherbert.com.