Religion or belief discrimination in Britain

20 June 2011

A review of research evidence commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission indicates there are different perceptions about the legal protections for religion or belief and about the level of discrimination towards different religions or beliefs.

Evidence in the report shows that people’s understanding of their rights around religion or belief is not always matched by recent changes to equality law. The Commission is concerned that this could be preventing people from using their rights.

People are protected from discrimination based on their religion or belief in many settings, such as when shopping, eating out or playing sport as well as at work. The law protects people who do not have a religious belief, such as atheists or humanists; as well as people who have a religious belief.

Religion or belief is specifically protected by the Equality Act 2010. People were protected from religious discrimination in the workplace from 2003 and in the provision of goods and services from 2006.

Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips said:

"Our business is defending the believer. The law we're here to implement recognises that a religious or belief identity is, for the majority of people in Britain, an essential element of being a fulfilled human being and plays an important part in our society.

"Religion or belief is as much part of our identity as other characteristics such as race, gender, or being a parent. People should not be penalised or treated in a discriminatory way because of it.

“My worry is there are people who may feel they're being treated unfairly because of their faith and who in fact may be being treated unfairly because of their faith but for some reason feel they can't get our support in getting justice.

“We’ve already undertaken a number of legal cases about religion or belief discrimination, but want to do more to build a body of case law in this area. We are in the process of meeting with faith and belief groups to get a better sense of what the issues are for their members.”

Ends

For more press information contact the Commission’s media office on 020 3117 0255, out of hours 07767 272 818.

For general enquiries please contact the Commission’s national helpline: England 0845 604 6610, Scotland 0845 604 5510 or Wales 0845 604 8810.

Notes to editors

View the report: Religious discrimination in Britain: A review of research evidence, 2000-10 by Paul Weller of the University of Derby 

The Commission’s statistical briefing paper on Religion or Belief is also available.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.