Sir Tim Berners-Lee (the inventor of the World Wide Web and a Unitarian Universalist) invited me to present the Thought for the Day, on the BBC's Today Programme for Boxing Day 2013. The BBC overruled Sir Tim's invitation and selected an avowedly theist Unitarian minister instead.
Why was I prevented from presenting?
The BBC cited its editorial policy as the basis of this decision:
"First and foremost, Thought for the Day (TFTD) is a unique slot on the BBC in which speakers from a wide range of religious faiths reflect on an issue of the day from their faith perspective."
Apparently, I do not have a "faith perspective."
Although the BBC has determined that Unitarianism is an acceptable faith (as evidenced by their invitation of another Unitarian minister), and although I am a fully-qualified minister of that faith with a thriving congregation, the BBC concluded that I do not "have faith" because I say that I do not believe in a god.
This is not entirely a new dispute. In fact, last year, the BBC's Head of Religion and Ethics Aaqil Ahmed reportedly reviewed Thought for the Day in response to complaints but concluded that it should not be opened up to people of no faith.
So, what is going on here?
The BBC is intent on keeping Thought for the Day as a haven for the traditionally religious and, in order to do so, has established its religion department as the arbiter of who is and who is not a legitimate "person of faith."
One of the most beautiful things about Unitarianism is that it refused to establish any belief test for members - it is and always has been a non-creedal faith. How ironic that the BBC - a tax-funded corporation dedicated to serving all the public - has established just such a belief test for participation in TFTD.
The view that we either have faith or not is a false dichotomy and an exclusionary position to take in a society where many, if not most, people now seek inspiration and guidance from non-traditional sources.
The BBC's insistence that the inspirational message in its flagship morning radio programme can only be delivered by the traditionally religious fails to serve the majority of the British audience. It is incumbent upon the BBC to find ways to offer inspiration and guidance that will reach the people who need it.