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Religion and belief legislation

Discrimination on grounds of religion and belief is prohibited in relation to education and training, employment and provision of goods, facilities and services, there are also specific provisions relating to promoting religious hatred and crimes which are aggravated by religious hatred. The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 (Religion and Belief Regulations) make it unlawful to discriminate on grounds of religion or belief in employment and vocational training. They prohibit direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, victimisation and harassment.

Religion or belief is defined in the Religion and Belief Regulations as meaning any religion, religious belief or similar philosophical belief.

Not all differences of treatment on grounds of religion or belief are unlawful. There are exceptions for differences of treatment related to national security and positive action, and for the protection of Sikhs in connection with requirements as to the wearing of safety helmets.

The Religion and Belief Regulations provide an exception where being of a particular religion or belief is a genuine and determining occupational requirement for a post if it is proportionate to apply the requirement in the particular case. The Religion and Belief Regulations also provide an exception for employers with an ethos based on religion or belief where being of a particular religion or belief is a genuine occupational requirement for a post and it is proportionate to apply the requirement in the particular case.

The Equality Act 2006 also introduced new provisions prohibiting discrimination on grounds of religion or belief in the provision of goods, facilities and services.

The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 makes provisions regarding religious hatred or prejudice. The Act does not make religious hatred an offence in itself, but specifies that an offence is aggravated by religious hatred if ;
“a) at the time of committing the offence or immediately before or after doing so, the offender evinces towards the victim (if any) of the offence, malice or ill-will based on the victim’s membership (or presumed membership) of a religious group, or of a social or cultural group with a perceived religious affiliation; or

b) the offence is motivated (wholly or partly) by malice and ill-will towards members of a religious group, or of a social or cultural group with a perceived religious affiliation, based on their membership of that group.”

Section 74 (6) provides that membership of a group includes association with members of that group, and ‘presumed’ membership is the presumption of the offender that the person(s) is a member of a particular group.

“Religious group” is defined at Section 74 (7) as being ‘a group of persons defined by reference to their;
a) religious belief or lack of religious belief;
b) membership of or adherence to a church or religious organization;

c) support for the culture and traditions of a church or religious organization; or
d) participation in activities associated with such a culture or such traditions.’

Section 74 provides that where a criminal offence is aggravated by religious prejudice the court must take into account that aggravation when determining the appropriate sentence for the criminal offence. An aggravated offence can attract a higher penalty than the offence committed without aggravation. This is because the court must take into account the proved aggravation when selecting a sentence. It should be noted that the initial offence must be proven to have occurred before the aggravation can be taken into consideration. There is no stand alone offence of religious prejudice. However, it is not necessary for the aggravation to be corroborated (that is, two sources of evidence). A single source of evidence is sufficient proof of the aggravation although corroboration is still required for the offence itself.

A similar provision exists for the rest of the UK under the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2002.

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