In recent years equality legislation has expanded to deal with religion or belief. The Human Rights Act 1998 introduced a positive right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The Equality Act 2010, applying to England, Scotland and Wales, prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion or belief in the same way that it does for characteristics such as age, disability, gender, race and sexual orientation. Case law in relation to these acts has added further definition to the rights and duties which they
The following submissions are particularly noteworthy for their discussions of religion and belief in the context of law.
‘If we are all equal, the freedom of religion and conscience of each of us is due equal respect whether it is religious in nature or not.’
Ronan McCrea is a lawyer and a specialist on the relationship between religion and law in liberal democracies. He argues that the expansion of the jurisdiction of religious tribunals should not be encouraged, and that a religion-specific exemption from anti-discrimination law is unjustifiable.
‘The law may legitimately protect individual believers from persecution or from incitement of hatred but their beliefs as such must never be protected from the mockery or robust criticism that are part of the essentials of a free society.’
David Pollock is former President of the European Humanist Federation. His submission argues that secularism is ‘the best possible guarantor’ of freedom of religion or belief for all. He discusses equality legislation’s exemptions relating to religion or belief, for example in relation to employment practices. He discusses issues of discrimination and reasonable accommodation of religion or belief in the workplace. The author also offers some detailed discussion of social change and educational issues.
‘The growth of litigation… together with an increase in legislation and a growing understanding of religious rights (under civil law), has led to the ‘juridification of religion’.’
Frank Cranmer, Norman Doe, David Harte and Russell Sandberg are members of the Centre for Law and Religion at Cardiff University. The authors caution that implying that values like equality and the rule of law are distinctively ‘British’ could estrange some members of minority communities. They set out recent developments in law pertaining to religion or belief matters and identify a number of concerns, such as confusion among the general public about the implication of anti-discrimination legislation for religion and belief groups. They discuss research on minority religious courts and suggest that these tribunals do not seek to undermine civil law and that they provide a ‘valuable service’ for their adherents.
‘Religion and belief should not affect the forming of laws, nor the enforcement of laws. In fact, religious beliefs should be irrelevant to the law, which should purely be based and applied on humanitarian grounds.’
This submission is from a non-religious and secularist perspective. Particularly noteworthy are the author’s comments on legal issues, including the place of religious minority legal tribunals in the UK. This submission also discusses social change and issues in education, media and social action.