In a speech at Lambeth palace today, the Queen told the Archbishop of Canterbury how inclusive the Church of England is and how important its establishment is to the nation.
She said: “The concept of our established Church is occasionally misunderstood and, I believe, commonly under-appreciated. Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country. It certainly provides an identity and spiritual dimension for its own many adherents.”
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said:
“The Queen has a strong religious faith. For her to express her enthusiasm for that faith among religious leaders is appropriate and I’m sure they appreciated it. But her depiction of the Church of England as inclusive is a little hard to swallow.
“Public office was reserved to communicants of the Established Church. The National Secular Society has been concerned since its foundation in 1866 about the lack of inclusiveness of the Anglican Church in England. On four occasions our founding president, Charles Bradlaugh, was elected to represent the people of Northampton but was each time refused permission to take the necessary oath to take his seat in Parliament because he was an atheist. That only changed because secularists pressed for a more inclusive society.
“In the past the Church of England has excluded Catholics, Jews, atheists – indeed, the Act of Settlement still forbids a Catholic to take the throne. So this rewriting of history is a bit disingenuous.
“In a vastly diverse society such as ours, it is unsustainable that this tiny denomination (less than a million people attend CofE services on the average Sunday) should have such extensive privileges.
“The Queen is regarded by many as a great unifier in Britain. But her position as both head of state and head of the Church of England sends the wrong message to the many, many people in this country who are not Christians – or who are not even the right kind of Christians.
“The Queen should reign over a country of equals. That is certainly not what the establishment represents.”