Now this all sounds very benign and well-meaning and, indeed, inclusive. But it’s hard not to see it as a subtle attempt to preserve a status for a church that no longer commands the active allegiance of the majority of the population (whichever box people tick on Census forms). No longer a monopoly supplier of faith to the British people, the established church can still be primus inter pares of the wider community of religions and the Archbishop of Canterbury CEO of Faith Inc. Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and others can shelter in the capacious folds of his archiescopal cope, confident that he will defend their interests against the common enemy, the “militant” secularists.
In such a context, it becomes politic for the monarch — whose own role is supposed to embody unity rather than division — to assert that the established church has been responsible for Britain’s tradition of religious tolerance and pluralism. Historically, however, this is at best misleading, at worst a deliberate distortion.