Religion, Faith and Belief Equality

Britain is a multi-faith society.  At the time of the last census, in 2001, there were more than 100,000 followers of each of the six religions most commonly practiced in England and Wales.  More than eight out of every ten people said they held religious beliefs of one kind or another.  Importantly, faith and belief equality also includes people with no religion or belief.  Religion has the meaning usually given to it but belief includes religious and philosophical beliefs including lack of belief (e.g. Atheism).  Generally, a belief should affect your life choices or the way you live for it to be included in the definition.

This section defines the protected characteristic of religion or religious or philosophical belief, which is stated to include for this purpose a lack of religion or belief.  It is a broad definition in line with the freedom of thought, conscience and religion guaranteed by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  The main limitation for the purposes of Article 9 is that the religion must have a clear structure and belief system.  Denominations or sects within a religion can be considered to be a religion or belief, such as Protestants and Catholics within Christianity.

The criteria for determining what is a “philosophical belief” are that it must be genuinely held; be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available; be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour; attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and be worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.  So, for example, any cult involved in illegal activities would not satisfy these criteria.  The section provides that people who are of the same religion or belief share the protected characteristic of religion or belief.  Depending on the context, this could mean people who, for example, share the characteristic of being Protestant or people who share the characteristic of being Christian.


•The Baha’i faith, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Rastafarianism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism are all religions for the purposes of this provision

•Beliefs such as humanism and atheism would be beliefs for the purposes of this provision but adherence to a particular football team would not be

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Useful documents

Religion or belief, equality and human rights in England and Wales  (Equality and Human Rights Commission research report 84)

What is a ‘Good Death’? How faiths or beliefs help us to understand death and dying  (Regional Faiths Network report)

 Useful links

These useful links will help you to discover more about the most common religions and beliefs in Britain and the people who practice them.  You can also find out about humanism, meaning either the non-belief in religion, or the holding of non-religious beliefs.

Useful BBC diversity calendar -  A calendar listing important dates and useful information for a wide range of different faiths.

EHRC – Your rights for Religion and Belief .

Interfaith Network UK – Information on interfaith work in UK.

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