Queen 'should remain Defender of the Faith' - BBC poll

Queen shakes hands with the Archbishop of Canterbury
Image caption The Queen defended the role of the Church of England in a speech at Lambeth Palace

Almost 80% of people in England agree the Queen still has an important faith role, a BBC poll suggests.

In a poll by Comres to coincide with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, 79% of respondents said the monarch's religious role remained relevant.

Meanwhile, 73% said she should continue as supreme governor of the Church of England and keep the Defender of the Faith title first given to Henry VIII.

Comres polled 2,591 people about links between the Church and monarchy.

About 25% of those polled thought the Queen and future monarchs should not have any faith role.

Common values

The Queen's first Jubilee engagement of the year was at a multi-faith reception at Lambeth Palace, where she defended the role of the Church of England.

She said the Church was often misunderstood and under-appreciated.

"Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of all other religions, instead the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country," she said.

A few weeks later she made her first Jubilee visit to Leicester, where she was greeted by Indian drummers, a Zimbabwean choir and a traditional brass band.

She also attended a service at Leicester Cathedral.

The Bishop of Leicester, the Right Reverend Tim Stevens, said it was no coincidence that she went to the city at the start of her Jubilee year.

"What we saw in Leicester was the power of that arrangement to hold people together from different faiths, if you disestablish the Church and disconnect the Church from the monarchy, it gives the impression there are almost no values we share in common at all."

Farooq Murad, the general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, said the Queen's role in the Commonwealth meant other faith communities felt at home with her leadership of the Church of England.

Image caption The Bishop of Leicester said the Queen's visit to the city was a reminder of common values

"The largest Muslim countries, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, are part of the Commonwealth and (people) arrive here having heard of the British monarchy from their fathers and grandfathers to the extent that many of them fought for the British Empire - we feel strong Christian values are good for us, we are very much on the same grounds."

But Graham Smith, from the campaign group Republic, which wants to get rid of the Monarchy, said it was discriminating against other religions.

"I don't think that in a multicultural society we should be telling people that actually you are excluded from this," he said.

"Our head of state has even recently spoken out in defence of the Church of England. I think that's not right in a society where most people don't identify with that.

Words of fire

"It becomes exclusive and it locks ordinary people out from the institutions and the ceremonies of state."

In last year's Christmas broadcast, the Queen quoted the Bible and spoke of God sending Jesus as a saviour who taught forgiveness.

Canon Anthony Kane has monitored the Queen's Christmas broadcasts and said her personal faith remained strong.

"The fact that she speaks with a personal faith is in itself a significant action and the way that she links world events to that faith is something a preacher would want to do," he said.

The Bishop of London, the Right Reverend Richard Chartres, who gave the sermon at the wedding of the Duke and the Duchess of Cambridge, warned of the danger of doing away with the Queen's title.

"If you have a political culture which rigidly excludes the voice of faith from rational dialogue in the open, what you do is push that huge energy into places where people speak words of fire together and that is one of the ingredients for growing fanaticism," he said.

The poll for BBC local radio found opinion divided on the suggestion by Prince Charles that he might change the religious role of the monarchy.

He has called for greater understanding between people of different faiths and said he would personally rather see his role as Defender of Faith, not the faith.

When asked if Prince Charles should change his title if he becomes king, only half of the respondents thought that he should.

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