The latest to come out in favour of opening it up is Lord (John) Birt, a former director general of the Beeb.
A story in today’s Daily Telegraph tells us that Birt had said that “the BBC must ‘loosen the stranglehold’ of established religious organisations and ‘embrace’ the humanist movement”.
I’m not so sure that only humanists should get a go. Not all of them are as freethinking as they like to freethink themselves to be, but he means nonbelievers and similar, as we will see.
The Telegraph says:
Secularists claim the three[-]minute slot – which is only open to representatives from the main faiths – discriminates against non-believers. They have complained to the Trust, the governing arm of the corporation, which is expected to deliver its response next week.
Lord Birt, who was head of the corporation between 1992 and 2000, appeared to agree that there needed to be a greater range of views.
Birt’s description of humanists is “a loose network of individuals broadly exercised by questions of the spirit, concerned to optimise the sum total of human happiness here on earth; individuals naturally respectful of others, wedded to rationalism and to scientific rigour, revering all life, unafraid to proclaim and to celebrate the joy of existence and the richness of human expression”.
Well, that’s a pretty broad description. I doubt anyone presses all the buttons, but it’s a start.
The best thing is just to open it up to people who have something to say (how they’re to be chosen is another matter and potential can of worms). If they happen to be religious, so be it; spiritually questioning with half an eye to the supernatural, so be it; total atheists, so be it. But why bother to label, unless their talk is inextricably linked to their affiliation or they need to declare an interest?
Why do we need to say today we have a religious person, tomorrow we’ll have a humanist?
Further reading: See Jonathan Bartley's take on this over at Ekklesia’s website, in which he talks of religions exclusion in history by saying, “The injustice of such [historical] religious exclusion from public space is now self-evident. But the tendency of some religious people to maintain a voice for themselves whilst effectively silencing others, still remains.” He then puts “Thought” into this context.