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Religion or belief discrimination

Discrimination occurs whenever someone treats someone else differently because of a characteristic or opinion of that other person. Discrimination can take many forms and can be driven by many different prejudices, including racial prejudice, sexual orientation or gender prejudice and prejudice based on religion or beliefs.

Discrimination can take many forms. At one level it might mean treating someone less favourably, perhaps by not offering a job or a promotion. At another level it might involve procedural discrimination, such that rules that apply at work can only be achieved by certain employees but not by others.

Discrimination can also occur more obviously when it involves direct harassment or victimisation of someone purely because of their religion or beliefs.

Discrimination in its many forms is often illegal. This is particularly so in the workplace, in education and in housing matters; however, it is also outlawed in society in general where crimes based on religion are treated very seriously.

Are there different types of religious discrimination?

Discrimination on the basis of religion or beliefs can take many forms. It can be direct, which means that someone is treated poorly on the basis of their belief or religion; however, it can also be indirect, which occurs when a rule, law or policy is harder for one group to adhere to than another and these groups are defined by their religion or belief.

Discrimination can also take the form of harassment based on religion or belief. Harassment is any behaviour that causes the victim to feel that their dignity is violated, or where they are caused to feel hostility, degradation, humiliation or offence.

Practically, discrimination can take many forms, including refusal for a loan, turning you away from a hotel or restaurant or being dismissed from your job, where this decision or action is based on a perception of your beliefs.

What is a religion or belief?

Religion or belief has a particular meaning when it comes to the issue of discrimination. Most obviously, religion refers to organised faith systems, typified by the major world religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

Other protected religions and beliefs include those of smaller organisations or sects such as Scientology, Christian Scientists or Rastafarianism.

However, you are also entitled to have your beliefs protected even if you do not follow a recognised religion. This includes when you believe there is no God, which is known as atheism. This is protected as a philosophical belief.

Can I be discriminated against even though I have no beliefs?

The law prohibits discrimination based on perceived religion or beliefs. This means that it is not the fact that you follow a belief system or a religion that gives rise to the offence when discrimination occurs, but the fact that the perpetrator believes you hold that belief.

This situation applies, for example, if you are discriminated against for being a Muslim because you are wearing a veil, even if you are not a Muslim at all. This would still be considered discrimination and would be illegal.

What should I do if I am discriminated against because of my religion or beliefs?

Religious discrimination is illegal. Your course of action will depend on the circumstances. If you are being threatened with violence or you fear violence you should involve the police.

If the discrimination is at work, you should talk to your employer directly, or seek legal advice from a solicitor. You may have a case at tribunal.

If the discrimination occurs in the course of everyday life it is still illegal and you could have a case against the person who discriminates against you. Note details of what has happened, and take your case to a solicitor for legal advice.

Further reading

Discrimination because of religion or belief – Advice Guide 

Religion or belief discrimination – Acas 

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