Mid-Summer Miscellany



The burka (and thus Islam) has been in the news again during the past week, partly because the European Court of Human Rights has upheld France’s ban on wearing the full face-veil in public (a similar ban also operates in Belgium), and partly because an imam has written to The Times to point out that ‘there is no Koranic mandate for female facial masks’ and to suggest that wearing the burka in public should be made illegal in the UK.

The latest publicity has prompted Opinium Research to test the popular mood in the UK, and the company put several questions to an online sample of 2,004 adults between 4 and 7 July 2014. Topline results are tabulated below, revealing two-thirds of people in favour of banning the burka, similar to other polls in recent years, albeit one-quarter expressed some concern on the grounds of implications for human rights and individual freedoms.




Burqa, or full veil, should be banned in public places



Burqa a predominantly cultural rather than religious requirement



Banning burqa would give women who wear it less freedom



Banning burqa would be serious breach of rights of women



What people wear in public legitimate topic of public debate



What people wear, even in public, entirely private matter



Breaks by sex, age, and region, which show over-55s to be most illiberal in their views on all the questions, are also available at:



The British Muslim community has also been in the headlines because of official confirmation that several hundred of its members have been engaged in jihad in Syria and Iraq, with a proportion of them potentially continuing their struggle on their return to Britain. The news has inevitably led to public concern, as recorded in a YouGov poll for The Sunday Times, for which 1,936 adults were interviewed online on 26-27 June 2014. Two-thirds of respondents felt that there was a serious danger of such jihadists undertaking terrorist attacks in this country, and this view was particularly held by Conservatives (78%), UKIP supporters (87%), and the over-60s (77%); just 17% believed the risk has been exaggerated. Social media have proved an effective vehicle for jihadist propaganda, and 61% were convinced that these media could be doing much more to prevent this happening, with 12% disagreeing and 27% unsure. Similarly, 63% of Britons considered that there was much more which Muslim community leaders could be doing to help the authorities identify young people who might become jihadists, a position again disproportionately taken up by Conservatives (76%), UKIP voters (85%), and the over-60s (74%); only 12% assessed that such leaders were doing all they reasonably could to assist, the remaining 25% expressing no opinion. In answer to a hypothetical question about having a Muslim child (including a convert), 63% said that they would inform the police if he had gone on jihad in Syria, while 8% would not, and 29% were uncertain what they would do. Full data tables are at:


Sunday trading

The overwhelming majority of Britons (77%) appear content with the provisions of the Sunday Trading Act 1994, which limits the opening of large shops in England and Wales to a maximum of six hours on a Sunday. This is according to a ComRes poll for the Association of Convenience Stores, released on 1 July 2014, and for which 1,004 adults were interviewed by telephone between 28 and 30 March 2014. The survey was presumably triggered by recent agitation on the part of some of the retail giants to get these restrictions lifted. Support for the status quo was highest in Scotland (86%), to which the law does not apply, but otherwise did not vary much by demographics (including by religious affiliation). Opposition to the six-hour rule was voiced by 20%, peaking at 30% in South-East England, albeit it sprang from a variety of motives. Among this minority, 56% wished to see no Sunday opening of large shops at all, while 23% wanted their hours to be reduced; on the other hand, 5% opted for a small increase in permitted opening hours and 17% for complete deregulation of Sunday trading, enabling large shops to open for as long as they desired. Data tables can be found at:


Church and clergy

In a seminal article in Social Forces in 1994 Mark Chaves sought to redefine secularization as declining religious authority. His reformulation has hitherto been little examined in a British context, but Clive Field has now used it as a framework for considering changing views of Church and clergy: ‘Another Window on British Secularization: Public Attitudes to Church and Clergy since the 1960s’, Contemporary British History, Vol. 28, No. 2, June 2014, pp. 190-218. This is, in effect, a meta-analysis of opinion poll evidence from the last half-century, derived from 125 non-recurrent surveys and 15 time series (incorporating 114 data points). Much comparative information about other institutions and professions is also provided, notably in the twelve tables. The standing of Church and clergy in Britain is shown to have diminished, especially in the 1990s and 2000s, mirroring the net decline in institutional Christianity revealed in performance indicators of church membership, attendance, rites of passage, and affiliation. This loss of status, it is argued, reflects, not merely the passive effects of a secularizing climate, but active disenchantment with policies and practices pursued by Church and clergy, especially in respect of the Church of England and Roman Catholic Church. Access options for the article are explained at:


Roman Catholic pastoral statistics

The Catholic Directory of England and Wales has been a standard source of statistical information about the Roman Catholic Church for more than a century. The statistical section was dropped by the editor from the 2013 edition, on the grounds of doubts about the quality of the data, bur reinstated in the 2014 edition (in respect of returns for 2012). Unfortunately, the new data are also flawed, according to the first of three blogs by Tony Spencer of the Pastoral Research Centre (PRC), subjecting the Catholic Directory figures to forensic examination. This first blog, published on 7 June 2014, reviewed the Catholic Directory’s table of Roman Catholic population, highlighting several problems. In brief, two dioceses failed to send in data (so there is no national total); other diocesan returns were incomplete, sometimes as a consequence of the belated or non-cooperation of parish priests; and most dioceses failed to implement adequate data collection and quality control procedures. As a result, Spencer argues, the Catholic population estimates are ‘meaningless and useless’ and ‘utterly misleading’. The claim is demonstrated by reference to the PRC’s own estimates for several dioceses. The Catholic Directory’s figures thereby exemplify the ‘highly dysfunctional statistics regime’ and ‘chaotic arrangements’ operated by the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales since 2000-01. Regrettably, according to Spencer, the Catholic hierarchy has thus far ignored all proposals by the PRC to put a more systematic and credible statistics gathering process in hand. The blog can be read at:


Religious hatred in Scotland

Criminalized religious hatred is declining in Scotland, according to Janine McKenna and Kathryn Skivington, Religiously Aggravated Offending in Scotland, 2013-14, which was published by Scottish Government Social Research on 13 June 2014. In 2013-14 there were 635 criminal charges relating to religious prejudice in Scotland laid under Section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 or Sections 1 and 6 of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012. This represented a decrease of 17% on the 2012-13 total and of 29% since 2011-12. The majority of those charged were men (90%) and a plurality (47%) aged 16-30, while in 59% of cases the accused was described by the police as being under the influence of alcohol. The faiths targeted were Roman Catholicism (63%), Protestantism (29%), Islam (8%), and Judaism (2%). Almost half (48%) of victims were police officers. Many cases are still ongoing, but, of those which have already been concluded, 85% resulted in a conviction, with a monetary penalty (39%), community penalty (30%), or a custodial sentence (24%) being the principal resolutions. The report is at:



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