A Census Dilemma

In a few weeks time a 32-page questionnaire will land on doormats throughout the Watford area. Like it or not, you must complete all 32 pages or you could face a £1,000 fine and be saddled with a criminal record. Completing the census is a civic duty – the data it provides is vital for planning our future housing, education, transport and health needs – so why would anyone want to risk a hefty fine and criminal record by refusing to cooperate?

That’s where Faith comes in. Some members of faith communities hold strong beliefs about the use of violence to achieve any purpose, good or bad. The conscientious objectors of both world wars faced bitter shame and rejection because they held firm to their convictions. But what has all this to do with a harmless census?

You may think that the Office for National Statistics will be running the census and they are – up to a point. But they will be receiving a bit of help: a contract worth £150M has been awarded to an American company, Lockheed Martin, which happens to be America’s largest arms manufacturer. The company makes Trident nuclear missiles, cluster bombs and F-16 fighter jets, not to mention its involvement with the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, where it provided private contract interrogators. Not the kind of firm, some people think, we want handling our sensitive data – quite apart from the financial support it gives to the arms trade.

So, for some local folk of many different faiths and none, the census this year will pose a difficult ethical problem. Where do you stand?

Chris Pettit, as published in the Watford Observer on 4th March 2011.

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