September 2008 - Discrimination on Religious or Belief Grounds


It would appear from the number of questions we are asked about religious discrimination, that this part of the Equality Act 2006 is causing some confusion. 

This strand of prohibited discrimination is contained in Part 2 of the Equality Act.  Religion means any religion and belief means any religious or philosophical belief.  Thus so-called fringe religions may well qualify under this definition.  Some groups such as Muslims and Rastafarians come within this definition and are protected against religious discrimination while still not being covered under the Race Relations Act as ‘racial groups’.

Three forms of discrimination are relevant – direct, indirect and victimisation.  Direct discrimination occurs where one person treats another person less favourably on the grounds of their religion or belief.  This will apply even in cases where a person mistakes someone’s religion or belief and treats them less favourably because they think they are a member of a particular religious group, when in fact, they are not.


Indirect discrimination occurs where a provision, criterion or practice is applied which puts a person with particular religious beliefs at a disadvantage compared to some or all others which cannot reasonably be justified.  Victimisation arises when a person is treated less favourably because they intend or have taken action under the Equality Act and the alleged discriminator knows or suspects this to be the case.  This would include where a person is supporting someone else’s claim for discrimination and experiences less favourable treatment as a result.


There are no positive duties requiring public authorities to have regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination and promote equality in relation to religion or belief although this may change when the single equality act is introduced.


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