Religion and Belief

The protected characteristic of religion or belief includes any religion and any religious or philosophical belief. It also includes a lack of any such religion or belief (for example, Atheism).   It applies to direct and indirect discrimination and harassment – whether it is perceived, actual or associated.

A religion need not be mainstream or well known to gain protection as a religion. However, it must have a clear structure and belief system. Denominations or sects within religions, such as Methodists within Christianity or Sunnis within Islam, may be considered a religion for the purposes of the Act.

For a philosophical belief to be protected under the Act:

  • it must be genuinely held; 
  • it must be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of  information available;
  • it must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
  • it must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance;
  • it must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and not in conflict with the fundamental rights of others. 

Example: 

An observant Muslim requests two additional 10-minute breaks every day to allow him to pray at work. The employer allows other workers to take additional smoking breaks of similar length. Refusing this request could amount to direct discrimination because of religion or belief. On the other hand, if the employer took a consistently strict approach to rest breaks, they could allow the prayer breaks on the understanding that the Muslim worker arrives at work 20 minutes earlier or makes up the time at the end of the day.

Example: 

A student believes in a philosophy of racial superiority for a particular racial group. It is a belief around which they centre the important decisions in their life. This is not compatible with human dignity and conflicts with the fundamental rights of others. It would therefore not constitute a ‘belief’ for the purposes of the Act.

The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Team (email: equality-diversity@bristol.ac.uk or tel: 0117 33 18087) can provide specific advice to colleagues on this area of equality, as it applies to staff to staff and students.