What Does It Mean To Have Religious Freedom In The UK?

Religious freedom is one of the human rights UK citizens and visitors to our country have the legal protection from. This include the right to practice any religion or spiritual philosophy as well as the right not to practice a religion. In tense times in the UK and around the globe there is a lot of confusion as to what is covered under the Human Rights Act of 1998—which was designed to establish equality, fairness, dignity and respect.

What Religious Rights Are Protected?

The laws against religious discrimination apply at work, school, when seeking housing, completing any type of business or service transaction, or at any point while going about your day. UK citizens have the right to:

Belong to an organised religion such as Christianity, Judaism or Islam.
Have a profound belief which affects your way of life or view of the world. This includes religious and philosophical beliefs, or a lack of belief, such as Atheism.
Take part in collective worship.
Belong to a smaller religion or sect, such as Scientology or Rastafarianism.
Have no religion, for example, if you are an atheist.

Religious Beliefs Can Not Be Used As A Reason To Attack Others

Freedom of speech is your right, but it does not give you permission to verbally abuse or physically attacked those with different beliefs. You have the right to speak freely about your religion as long as you are not communicating, publishing or distributing information that would fall under the category of hate. This is anything that is designed to create or encourage religious hatred or racism.

What Is The Difference Between Religion And Racism?

There is often a fine line between religion and culture. Racism is not always the result of religious discrimination, but religions discrimination is often racially motivated. For example, a woman wearing a headscarf may be assumed to be Muslim. However, she could be wearing the scarf as a fashion statement, or she could be Hindu, Jain, or Sikh. She also could have grown up in a country where headscarves are fashionable—but could be Christian or non-religious. In other words, you cannot look at someone to determine their religious beliefs.

If someone is discriminated against due to their actual or presumed religion, race or culture it infringes upon their religious and/or human rights . This also includes discrimination by association. For example, if your best friend is Jewish and you are also discriminated against because you are assumed to be Jewish.

What Counts As Discrimination?

Discrimination is defined as the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people. When speaking in terms of human rights discrimination it is when someone treats you unfairly in comparison to someone else, due to your religion, spiritual beliefs, or assumed religion. It is illegal when:

  • You are refused service in a restaurant or store because you are Muslim.
  • You are refused a bank loan because you are Rastafarian.
  • You are fired from work because you need Friday afternoons off for Sabbath.
  • You are not allowed to wear your religious jewelry, turban or hijab at work for non-safety related reasons.
  • A teacher at school asks you not to wear your religious jewelry, clothing or paraphernalia.
  • Implementing a dress code that would exclude clothing associated with a particular faith.
    However, there are some exceptions to the rule. For example, a firefighter would not be able to wear their safety helmet while wearing their turban. Or a Sikh man may not be allowed to wear his religious bracelet because he works in an assembly line setting where no employees are allowed to wear jewellery due to safety reasons. However, asking a retail clerk not to wear their hijab because customers might assume they are a terrorist would be considered discrimination. If an employer can site a legitimate and non-discriminatory reasons for their exception, then it is valid.

What Is Victimisation?

Victimisation is when someone is treated in a dissimilatory manner after having reported religious freedom violation. This includes the individual on the receiving end of the violation and anyone who reported or confirmed the discrimination, even if they were not on the receiving end.

If you believe you have been a victim of religious discrimination reach out to the legal team at Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors to discuss your case. We also help businesses define company safety policies and dress codes that respect religious freedom.