Calling Britain a "Christian country" sows seeds of dangerous division, a coalition of 50 leading scientists, writers and academics has said, criticising David Cameron for his spoken desire to infuse Christian values into society.
An open letter from signatories including the authors Philip Pullman and Sir Terry Pratchett; broadcasters Dan Snow and Nick Ross, the philosopher AC Grayling; and the gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, expressed concern at the "negative consequences" of the Prime Minister's assertion in a country where most people do not describe themselves as Christian.
Cameron - who in the past has been reluctant to discuss religious matters - wrote of his own faith and his desire to infuse politics with Christian ideals and values in an article for the Church Times this month.
"We wish to object to his repeated mischaracterising of our country as a 'Christian country' and the negative consequences for our politics and society that this view engenders," the Easter Monday letter states, published in the Daily Telegraph.
"Repeated surveys, polls, and studies show most of us as individuals are not Christian in our beliefs or our religious identities and at a social level, Britain has been shaped for the better by many pre-Christian, non-Christian, and post-Christian forces.
"We are a plural society with citizens with a range of perspectives and a largely non-religious society. To constantly claim otherwise fosters alienation and division in our society."
In the 2011 Census, Christianity was the largest religion, with 33.2 million people, 59.3% of the population, identifying as Christian.
The letter said that Cameron was wrong to "exceptionalise" the contributions made to society by Christians when they are equalled by those of people with different beliefs.
"It needlessly fuels enervating sectarian debates that are by and large absent from the lives of most British people, who - as polls show - do not want religions or religious identities to be actively prioritised by their elected government."
Downing Street said that Cameron had made clear as far back as December 2011, in a speech to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, that he believed the UK was a Christian country "and should not be afraid to say so".
"He also added that this was not to say in any way that to have another faith - or no faith - was somehow wrong," a spokeswoman said.
"He has said on many occasions that he is incredibly proud that Britain is home to many different faith communities, who do so much to make the UK a stronger country."
Professor Jim Al-Khalili, the theoretical physicist and science broadcaster and President of the British Humanist Association, who organised the letter said Mr Cameron's comments were part of a "disturbing trend".
"Politicians have been speaking of our country as 'a Christian country' with increasing frequency in the last few years," he said.
"Not only is this inaccurate, I think it's a wrong thing to do in a time when we need to be building a strong shared identity in an increasingly plural and non-religious society."Suggest a correction