Attorney General Dominic Grieve has become the latest high profile figure to flock to the defense of the prime minister over his recent insistence that Britain is a Christian country.
In an interview with the Telegraph, the senior law officer said that British society is "underpinned by Christian values", while denouncing those that have rounded on David Cameron for expressing such a partisan view on the role of faith, adding that the rise in religious fundamentalism had led many to balk at expressing their true beliefs.
The Prime Minister was hit by a raft of criticism for stating that Britain is a "Christian country", with more than 50 writers, scientists, broadcasters and academics signing an open letter admonishing the Tory leader for expressing such a potentially alienating view.
However, Grieve dismissed the letter, penned by the British Humanist Organisation, claiming that atheism "doesn't appear to have made much progress in this country".
The attorney general said: "I do think that there has been a rise of an assertiveness of religious groups across the spectrum. That is why those with softer religious views find it disturbing and say they don't want anything to do with it."
"I do think that the rise of religious fundamentalism is a major deterrent to people. It is a big turn off away from religion generally, and it's very damaging in that context. It encourages people to say, 'I'm not interested', (it encourages) an unwillingness to express commitment."
Grieve added: "our state, its ethics and our society are underpinned by Christian values" and added: "As I go around and look at the way we make laws, and indeed many of the underlying ethics of society are Christian based and the result of 1,500 years of Christian input into our national life. It is not going to disappear overnight. They (the atheists) are deluding themselves."
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In a swipe at the signatories of the letter criticising Cameron, including scientist and broadcaster Professor Jim Al-Khalili, and authors Philip Pullman and Sir Terry Pratchett, the Attorney General said: "The evidence in this country is overwhelming that most people in this country by a very substantial margin have religious belief in the supernatural or a deity.
"To that extent atheism doesn't appear to have made much progress in this country at all, which is probably why the people that wrote this letter are so exercised about it."
The controversy follows Cameron's article last week for the Church Times in which he wrote of his own faith and his desire to infuse politics with Christian ideals and values.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said those denying Britain was a Christian country were "absurd" and "ignoring both historical and constitutional reality", the Daily Telegraph said.
According to the 2011 census, Christianity remains the largest religious group at 33.2 million, or around six in 10 of the population, but around one in four people in England and Wales now classify themselves as having no religion.
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