How will these resources help you? 

As British society becomes more religiously diverse and more secular, RE teachers have the opportunity to discuss the place of religion in the contemporary world and the perplexing relationship between Church and State. At the time of writing, with a Hindu Prime Minister in the UK and Muslim First Minister in Scotland, and recent census results indicating that Christianity is a minority religion in Britain, it is time to look at the historic influence of Christianity on governance, and its continued legacy. These resources explore the relationship of Church and State in the UK: its history, recent debates of its existence, and ultimately the question of its future.

A Brief History of Church and State in the UK

Secularity and Secularism in the United Kingdom: On the Way to the First Amendment

by Iain McLean and Scot M. Peterson, published by BYU Law Review, (2011)

This article provides a concise history of Church and State in the UK, providing readers with a basis for understanding its history and legacy. Particularly enlightening is the tracing of this trajectory in England in contrast to those of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. There is a relevant comparison to the separation of Church and State established in the First Amendment of the US Constitution, as well as a discussion of recent movements towards secularity in recent parliamentary debates. On this, the authors make an important distinction between Secularity (neutrality ‘between religions, and between religion and non-religion’) and Secularism (active measures to ‘keep religion out of the public arena’ ). 

Melville’s Two Kingdoms

Melville: Two Kings, Two Kingdoms

by Andrew Melville, from The Life of Andrew Melville edited by Thomas McCrie, published by The Heidelblog, (2014)

A brief but informative primary source from the Scottish reformer Andrew Melville. This source helps to shine light on an early critique of the union between Church and State as well as the different trajectories of Church and State found in England and Scotland. 

Contesting Religious Establishment: Same-Sex Partnerships

Religious Freedom, Religious Equality and Religious Establishment: A Toxic Brew

by Scot Peterson, published by OXPOL: The Oxford University Politics Blog, (2012)

This article explores the topic of civil partnerships on religious premises. The article explores how the reality of a 'religious establishment' can infringe upon greater religious freedom and equality. This is interesting to read in light of the Marriage Act that would pass the following year, the later movement of several branches of Christianity to conduct same-sex weddings, and the Anglican Church’s most recent move to provide blessings for same-sex unions in early 2023.

A Religious Establishment in Contemporary Britain?

Westminster’s other cathedral

by Bagehot, published by The Economist, (2022)

This article brings the evolution of issues of Church and State into the current decade. While the Monarchy and House of Lords still suggest the Church of England’s present power and influence on matters of governance, most recent census data show a stark decline of Christianity in British society. The author suggests that the Church’s influence, ultimately, is nominal, ‘like nitrogen in air: inert and ignored but there nevertheless’. 

Further materials

The relationship between church and state in the United Kingdom by David Torrance, published by House of Commons Library, (2023) Read this article
Prayers for God’s blessing for same-sex couples take step forward after Synod debate by The Church of England, (2023) Access this resource
God in Number 10: The Personal Faith of the Prime Ministers, from Balfour to Blair by Mark Vickers, published by SPCK Publishing, (2023), 9780281087280 Read this book
Natalie Smith completed her PhD in the History of Christianity in 2022. Her research focused on the city of Jerusalem and its development in late antiquity through the disciplines of anthropology and geography, comparing the architectural development of the city in comparison to the textual and ideological image promoted by its visitors. Natalie is an RE teacher.

Text © Natalie Smith, 2023