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Religion in the UK

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 20 Dec 2010 | comments*Discuss
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The state religion of the UK is Christianity as practiced by the Church of England. However, it is felt by many that the UK is becoming an increasingly secular country with attendance at Church of England church services falling.

Conversely the number of people practicing other religions or even different strands of Christianity has increased – often due to an influx of new immigrants. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have their own Churches.

Religious Freedoms

Tolerance and respect for others is central to the way of life, and the law, in the UK and this extends to religious beliefs. Even though the UK has a recognised state religion it is a fundamental right of UK residents and citizens that they have the freedom to practice their own faith. No one should be discriminated against or treated differently because of their religion. People of different faiths are free to build places of worship and to practice their religion openly.

Despite the extensive freedoms enjoyed by members of all religious faiths in the UK there may occasionally be situations where a practical element of a particular faith contravenes UK law. Tolerance means that a prosecution is highly unlikely in respect of a genuine religious practice but there could be extreme cases where it is felt that a practice is not compatible with UK laws and customs.

The Church of England

The monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II, is head of the Church of England as well as the head of state. Many senior church officials also sit in the House of Lords and have a political function. The most senior bishop of the Church of England is the Archbishop of Canterbury. He is not only the most senior ordained figure in the Church of England but is also recognised as a figurehead for Anglican churches throughout the world.

Other Christian Denominations

Christianity remains the largest religion in the UK. In the 2001 census 41 million people, or 71.8% of the population, identified themselves as being Christian. For these purposes Christian includes the Churches of England, Scotland and Wales, the Catholic Church, Protestants and all other Christian denominations. However, a large proportion of those who describe themselves as Christian do not attend church or religious services.

Whilst the Church of England has seen its congregations fall year after year, some other congregations have been booming. For example, immigration from traditionally Catholic countries has led to a substantial increase in the number of Catholics active in the UK. Such increases have been compounded because immigrant communities may have a higher birth rate than citizens born in the UK.

The Muslim Faith

The second largest religious group in the UK, according to the 2001 census, is those who describe themselves as Muslim. Traditionally, many immigrants to the UK have been Muslim. In recent years a growing number of people born in the UK have been converting to the Muslim faith contributing to a growth in numbers.

Other Faiths Practiced in the UK

The other main religious groups in the UK are Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism in order of size. Initially many people practising these faiths may have been immigrants. Second, third and following generations of immigrant families have since been born and grown up as UK residents and citizens but have continued to practice the faith of their forefathers.

People With No Stated Religion

In the 2001 census the second largest groups after those who described themselves as Christian were those who either have no religion - about 8.5 million people - or who did not state their religion - just under 4.5 million people.

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