The United Kingdom (UK) is a constitutional monarchy comprising Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland, with a total population of about 64 million people. England with the largest population, 53 million, is home to a bi-cameral UK parliament which has devolved a range of powers to the other three nations. There are specific legislative differences in the four nations, exercised by their parliaments or assemblies, reflecting the historical and cultural differences in those nations. A referendum vote in 2016 to “leave the European Union” is widely regarded as having exposed social divisions and as creating political and economic uncertainty.
|Constitution and government||Education and children’s rights||Family, community, society, religious courts and tribunals||Freedom of expression advocacy of humanist values|
Countries: Barbados, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Central African Republic, Chile, Congo, Republic of the, Ecuador, Estonia, Fiji, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Japan, Kenya, Kosovo, Mexico, Mongolia, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, South Africa, South Sudan, Taiwan, Ukraine
Countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Brunei Darussalam, Comoros, Croatia, Egypt, Eritrea, Ghana, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Zimbabwe
Countries: Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Belgium, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Congo, Republic of the, Djibouti, Ecuador, France, Gabon, Honduras, Iceland, India, Japan, Korea, Republic of, Mali, Mexico, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands, São Tomé and Príncipe, South Africa, Sweden, Taiwan, United States of America, Uruguay
Countries: Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Canada, Chile, Congo, Republic of the, Dominica, Ecuador, Estonia, France, Ghana, Guatemala, Iceland, Japan, Korea, Republic of, Kosovo, Latvia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Micronesia, Monaco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sweden, Taiwan, Uruguay, Venezuela
Countries: Austria, Congo, Democratic Republic of, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, Czech Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Honduras, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lesotho, Lithuania, Mongolia, Montenegro, Saint Lucia, Seychelles, South Africa, South Sudan, Suriname, Togo, Turkmenistan, Vanuatu, Viet Nam
Countries: no countries relate to this boundary condition
Countries: no countries relate to this boundary condition
This condition is unusual in that it is applied in cases where there is some social discrimination, but it is not pervasive or nationwide. This condition is applied when there is sufficient background evidence to warrant the assertion that discrimination is not anomalous but widespread, and this condition may be applied for example even where if there is no legislative discrimination or where the non-religious may have legal recourse against such discrimination. However, societal discrimination (i.e. discrimination by peers, as opposed to state or legal discrimination) is not easily measured, and for this reason the Report does not currently have similar more severe boundary conditions to capture higher levels of social discrimination per se. In principle these may be introduced in future. However, we consider that countries with actual higher levels of social discrimination against the non-religious will generally already meet other higher level (more severe) boundary conditions under this thematic strand.
Applied when overriding acts of oppression by the State are extreme, to the extent that the question of freedom of thought and expression is almost redundant, because all human rights and freedoms are quashed by authorities.
Countries: North Korea
Countries: Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Bahrain, Belize, Botswana, Brazil, Cambodia, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Latvia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Madagascar, Malta, Moldova, Palestine, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor-Leste (East Timor), Togo, Tunisia, United Kingdom, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Countries: Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Belize, Brunei Darussalam, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, Comoros, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, Egypt, Eritrea, Fiji, Finland, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Kosovo, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Micronesia, Mongolia, Morocco, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Rwanda, Samoa, Senegal, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Switzerland, Timor-Leste (East Timor), Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, United Kingdom, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Yemen, Zimbabwe
Countries: Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Central African Republic, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, Fiji, Finland, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Italy, Kiribati, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, New Zealand, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Spain, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, Vanuatu, Venezuela
Countries: Algeria, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo, Democratic Republic of, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gabon, Guinea, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Libya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Morocco, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Philippines, Russia, Rwanda, Samoa, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Countries: Armenia, Benin, Bhutan, Cambodia, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Republic of the, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Macedonia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Myanmar (Burma), Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Singapore, South Africa, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Timor-Leste (East Timor), Togo, Turkey, Uganda
Countries: Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bangladesh, Belize, Bolivia, Botswana, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Fiji, Georgia, Ghana, Greece, Guyana, Haiti, Hungary, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Kiribati, Korea, Republic of, Kosovo, Kuwait, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Liberia, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Mongolia, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, Vanuatu
This condition is applied where there are miscellaneous indicators that organs of the state offer various forms of support for a religion, or to religion in general over non-religious worldviews, suggesting a preference for those beliefs, or that the organs of that religion are privileged.
Countries: Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Belize, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Burundi, Canada, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Finland, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Montenegro, Mozambique, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Rwanda, San Marino, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Turkey, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Zimbabwe
Countries: Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Djibouti, Dominica, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Finland, Germany, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Kiribati, Korea, Republic of, Laos, Latvia, Liberia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia, Singapore, Swaziland, Tanzania, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States of America, Vanuatu, Zimbabwe
This condition highlights countries where schools subject children to fundamentalist religious instruction with no real opportunity to question fundamentalist tenets, or where lessons routinely encourage hatred (for example religious or ethnic hatred). The wording “significant number of schools” is not given a rigid quantification (sometimes the worst-offending schools are unregistered, illegal, or otherwise uncounted); however the condition is not applied in cases where only a small number of schools meet the description and may be anomalous, as opposed to being indicative of a widespread problem.
Countries: Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gambia, Ghana, Guyana, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, Myanmar (Burma), Nigeria, Oman, Palestine, Paraguay, Qatar, Russia, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Zimbabwe
Countries: Angola, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Congo, Republic of the, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ethiopia, Germany, Ghana, Haiti, Hungary, Italy, Jamaica, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lebanon, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Nepal, North Korea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Serbia, Singapore, Tajikistan, Tonga, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Zambia
Countries: Algeria, Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Finland, Georgia, Haiti, Iceland, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritania, Monaco, Morocco, Myanmar (Burma), Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Tunisia, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, Yemen, Zambia
Countries: Argentina, Armenia, Belize, Burundi, Cambodia, Chad, China, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Guinea, Haiti, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, Jamaica, Jordan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Oman, Palestine, Peru, Philippines, Samoa, Swaziland, Switzerland, Thailand, Timor-Leste (East Timor), Togo, Turkey, Uganda, United Kingdom, Zambia
Countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Burundi, China, Grenada, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Morocco, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Zimbabwe
Countries: Algeria, Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Bahamas, Bahrain, Benin, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Finland, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Haiti, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Jordan, Kiribati, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Moldova, Morocco, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, Nigeria, Oman, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Thailand, Timor-Leste (East Timor), Tonga, Tunisia, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Countries: Algeria, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, Comoros, Cyprus, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Finland, Gambia, Germany, Grenada, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Poland, Qatar, Russia, Rwanda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Singapore, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Tanzania, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Countries: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, Denmark, Eritrea, Germany, Haiti, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Malawi, Malaysia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Romania, Rwanda, Solomon Islands, Switzerland, Tunisia, United Kingdom
Countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belize, Brunei Darussalam, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Fiji, Gambia, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Macedonia, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen
This condition may apply if specifically religious education, religious materials, or specific religious denominations are so tightly controlled that children are in fact over-protected from exposure to religion and are likely unable to explore or construct their own worldview in accordance with their evolving capacities. This condition helps us to classify states (perhaps with secular constitutions) which have criminalized specifically religious beliefs or practices. This condition is not applied if the restricted beliefs or practices are found to be outlawed due to their being of an extremist variety. While this condition does not directly reflect discrimination against non-religious persons or non-religious ideas, it does represent an overall threat to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief; such restrictions could spill over to affect non-religious beliefs later; and they pose a risk of backlash against over-zealous secular authorities or even against non-religious individuals by association.
Countries: Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Bhutan, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Chad, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, El Salvador, Finland, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Jordan, Korea, Republic of, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Montenegro, Myanmar (Burma), Namibia, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Timor-Leste (East Timor), Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Yemen, Zimbabwe
Constitution and government
UK laws and policies protect freedom of religion or belief, as well as freedom of expression, association and assembly. However, religious privileges and legal exemptions, some linked to the established state church, are cause for concern.
The Church of England was created in a schism from Rome in the 16th century when the king made himself head of the church. The monarch must by law be a confirmed member of the Church of England and is described as the ‘Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England’ as well as being Head of State. Though usually considered “ceremonial”, this religiously-restricted and hereditary role does have some non-trivial powers. The monarch approves the appointment of Bishops.
The Church of Scotland is not formally established, however the Church of Scotland’s role as the “national church” is enshrined in legislation, and senior ministers from the Church play a prominent role in national ceremonial matters. The monarch takes an oath to preserve and defend the Church of Scotland. In Wales and Northern Ireland there are no constitutional links between churches and monarchy, but Northern Ireland Protestants assert loyalty to the monarch (often considered part of their case for remaining in the UK).
Religious privileges and exemptions
26 ‘Lords Spiritual’ (consisting of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, plus 24 diocesan bishops from the Church of England) sit in the House of Lords (the upper chamber of parliament) as of right, where they speak and vote on legislation – a privilege not awarded to any other group, and without public accountability.[ref]https://www.parliament.uk/business/lords/whos-in-the-house-of-lords/members-and-their-roles/how-members-are-appointed/[/ref]
The UK state provides preferential treatment in the finance of church buildings.[ref]https://www.gov.uk/government/news/support-for-churches-and-cathedrals-across-the-uk-announced-by-chancellor[/ref] In 2012, places of worship were singled out for compensation for the removal of the zero Value Added Tax (VAT) rating concession for alterations to listed buildings. The government also helps fund the repair and maintenance of all listed places of worship for religious groups nationwide (without any comparable funding for secular alternatives) and contributes to the budget of the Church Conservation Trust, which preserves disused Church of England buildings of architectural or historic significance.
Exemptions from employment equality legislation allow employers with a “religious ethos” to discriminate in their employment practices on grounds of religion or belief. This extends to recruitment, promotion and disciplinary practices. However, UK law additionally allows discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.[ref]https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/notes/division/3/16/26/1; https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/advice-and-guidance/religion-or-belief-discrimination; https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/discrimination-in-the-provision-of-goods-and-services/discrimination-in-the-provision-of-goods-and-services1/goods-and-services-what-are-the-different-types-of-discrimination/what-doesn-t-count-as-unlawful-discrimination-in-goods-and-services/religious-organisations-and-charities-when-discrimination-is-allowed-in-the-provision-of-goods-or-services/[/ref] Moreover, religious groups are increasingly being contracted by the central and local government to run services for the general public and are allowed to exercise these exemptions even when running such public services. These exemptions are separate from those where a “genuine occupational requirement” can be shown for a post-holder to be of a particular religion or belief.
Education and children’s rights
Faith schools, discrimination, and selection
Faith schools (including Church schools) are a significant part of the UK education system. 34% of state-funded schools in England, 14% (denominational) in Scotland, 15% in Wales and 94% in Northern Ireland are designated with a religious character, and in Great Britain their proportion is increasing. Wales and Northern Ireland have both Catholic and Protestant schools; England additionally has Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and other Christian schools.
In Scotland all state schools are to a degree ‘faith schools’. Most schools in Scotland are non-denominational Christian schools. There is no provision for secular schooling in the Scottish state school system. In 2018 there were 364 state-funded denominational schools in Scotland, of which 52 were secondary schools. Most denominational schools in Scotland are Roman Catholic Schools.[ref]ippr.org/read/autonomy-in-the-right-place#school-governance-in-38-160-scotland[/ref]
A high proportion of these state-funded religious schools (the legislation is complex) can discriminate against students in their admissions policies, and some or all teachers in their employment policies, on religious grounds. In October 2015, a report from the Fair Admissions Campaign found “near-universal noncompliance” with the statutory rules on admission of pupils by religiously-selective state schools in England.[ref]fairadmissions.org.uk/an-unholy-mess-new-report-reveals-near-universal-noncompliance-with-school-admissions-code-among-state-faith-schools-in-england/; https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/advice-and-guidance/religion-or-belief-discrimination[/ref]
This added to earlier findings that showed that religious selection causes extensive socio-economic and ethnic segregation.[ref]fairadmissions.org.uk/groundbreaking-new-research-maps-the-segregating-impact-of-faith-school-admissions/[/ref]
In 2018, the UK Government announced it will lift a 50% limit on religious selection in admissions that had applied to all new state-funded schools in England since 2007, with new 100%-selective religious schools to open under a funding scheme for voluntary-aided schools. The first of these, a Roman Catholic school in Peterborough, was approved in early 2020 and is set to open in 2022.[ref]https://humanism.org.uk/2018/05/11/humanists-uk-wins-government-u-turn-on-50-cap-on-faith-school-admissions/; https://humanism.org.uk/2020/02/13/final-approval-granted-for-most-religiously-selective-state-school-in-a-decade/[/ref]
Furthermore, religious schools in Great Britain are currently allowed to discriminate more broadly than EU law permits. In a report published in late December 2016, the Equality and Human Rights Commission for the UK stated that it considers the existing exceptions permitting a religious requirement for all teacher recruitment to be too broad. The Commission recommended that the provisions should be reviewed by both the Department for Education and the Scottish Government to make them compatible with the EU Employment Equality Directive.[ref]equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/religion-or-belief-report-december-2016.pdf[/ref]
In England and Wales, all state schools are obliged to teach religious education (RE). Most religious schools can provide confessional education (meaning that religious instruction is funded by the state) but legislation mandates that RE is non-confessional in other state schools where the syllabus is required to “reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain” (these are generally taken to be Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism).[ref]https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/40/part/I/chapter/I/crossheading/religious-education/enacted[/ref] Detailed syllabuses for RE are prepared for individual local authorities by advisory bodies. These advisory bodies are required to have religious members, along with teachers and local councillors.
Increasingly, humanism is included in RE. Indeed, in 2018, the landmark report of the Commission on Religious Education (CoRE) proposed that the subject be renamed Religion and Worldviews to make it clear that it should be inclusive of non-religious perspectives. However, the UK Department for Education (DfE), which is responsible for England, has stated that it does not intend to make the recommended changes because some religious stakeholders believe they will ‘dilute’ the subject. And previously, in 2015, the Government excluded humanism from age 16+ examination syllabuses, despite majority public support (including almost 90% of consultation respondents) for its inclusion.[ref]humanism.org.uk/2018/09/09/humanists-uk-welcomes-landmark-commission-on-re-recommending-new-subject-religion-and-worldviews/; humanism.org.uk/2018/12/16/secretary-of-state-for-education-rejects-calls-for-legal-reform-to-re/; humanism.org.uk/2015/02/12/government-rejects-consensus-subject-experts-public-religious-leaders-marginalises-humanism-gcse-levels/[/ref]
The DfE’s claim that this narrow examination syllabus would meet the statutory requirement for RE was challenged based on human rights law in a case brought by three humanist families with support from Humanists UK. In November 2015 the High Court ruled against the DfE, saying that non-religious views such as Humanism must be given parity with religions in RE; the judge described the Government’s claims to the contrary as an “error of law”. The judgment potentially has significant implications, establishing a duty on the state to treat religious and non-religious worldviews with equal respect; however, to date, the DfE has refused to acknowledge anything more than a technical defeat.[ref]bbc.co.uk/news/education-34921857; humanism.org.uk/2015/11/25/judge-rules-government-broke-the-law-in-excluding-humanism-from-school-curriculum/[/ref]
In Wales, the Government has recently laid a new Curriculum Bill before the Senedd that will radically change the way RE is taught. If it becomes law, the Bill will make it explicit that RE – which is set to be renamed Religion, Values and Ethics to reflect its broader scope – must include humanism on an equal basis to the major religions to ensure compliance with human rights law. This change follows from a successful challenge to a local council’s decision to refuse a humanist representative permission to become a full member of the local body that decides on what goes on the RE syllabus. This prompted the Welsh Government to issue guidance to ensure that these bodies are fully inclusive. The Government in England refuses to issue similar guidance, preferring to defer decisions about who may sit on these bodies to local councils.[ref]humanism.org.uk/2019/05/01/success-new-welsh-curriculum-is-fully-inclusive-of-humanism/; humanism.org.uk/2018/11/08/humanist-representatives-will-be-included-on-schools-re-body-welsh-council-rules/[/ref]
The Welsh Government will also be replacing the right of parents to withdraw their children from denominational R(V)E in voluntary aided faith schools with a right to demand alternative lessons in the subject that are ‘objective, critical, and pluralistic’.[ref]https://humanism.org.uk/2020/07/21/wales-humanists-backs-government-plan-for-objective-re-that-includes-humanism-to-be-taught-in-all-schools/[/ref]
In Scotland, Religious Observance and Religious Education are statutory requirements in every year of schooling. In non-denominational schools, which must still reflect Scotland’s Christian (Presbyterian) heritage. Most faith schools are Roman Catholic in nature. The Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Scotland retains the right to set the religious education curriculum (RERC) and relationships, sexual health and parenthood education. Whilst only 15% of schools in Scotland are ‘denominational’ in nature, all of Scotland’s state schools have, to a greater or lesser extent, a Christian influence.[ref]humanism.scot/what-we-do/education/[/ref]
Despite this Religious and Moral Education (RME), sometimes known as Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies (RMPS), in non-denominational schools does include an understanding of non-religious viewpoints alongside traditional teaching of faith positions.[ref]education.gov.scot/Documents/rme-pp.pdf[/ref]
In Northern Ireland, all religious education is Christian in nature, with the core syllabus having one module that mandates the teaching of two world religions, but otherwise only focusing, from a faith-based perspective, on Christianity.[ref]education-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/de/religious-education-core-syllabus-english-version.pdf[/ref]
No opt-out from religious education for students
Students cannot opt out of RE in any state school (including religious schools) but parents do have the absolute right to withdraw their children. The Welsh Government plans to remove this right once the new national curriculum is introduced in 2021, replacing it with a right to demand objective lessons in line with the agreed syllabus in voluntary aided faith schools. However, as with the right to withdraw in the rest of the UK, this right will sit entirely with the parents. This likely breaks children’s human rights, with case law on what is known as Gillick competence seeming to suggest that once a child obtains sufficient understanding and intelligence to be mature enough to make up their own mind on the matter, a child’s right to make their own decisions overrides their parents’ rights over them.
Required collective worship
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, every state-funded school is legally required to hold a daily act of “collective worship”. In religious schools this is in line with the faith of the school but in schools not designated with a religious character, worship must be “wholly or mainly… broadly Christian”, subject to variations approved by their local authority to reflect the school’s population – but they cannot substitute a secular equivalent. Parents have the same right to withdraw their children from worship as from RE, save that in England and Wales the right is transferred to the pupil in the sixth form (i.e. at 16+). However, the right is rarely used because it singles out students from their peers and may mean they miss out on secular aspects of the assembly. In Scotland religious observance is required six times a year and older pupils do not have the right of withdrawal.
Humanists UK reports being frequently contacted by parents whose children have experienced proselytising in school, either because their child attends a religiously designated school, or because of the Christian collective worship that every English and Welsh school has to hold. And, in 2019, the charity supported two non-religious parents, Lee and Lizanne Harris, to take a legal challenge against their children’s school because it refused to provide a meaningful alternative to collective worship for their children. When the trust that runs the school eventually backed down after the Harrises won permission to have their case heard at the High Court, the school agreed to provide an inclusive alternative to the Harris children and any other withdrawn children whose parents wished them to receive it. Unfortunately, the case does not set a legal precedent, however, it logically ought to mean that similar arrangements are possible at other schools.[ref]humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/; https://humanism.org.uk/2019/11/20/school-concedes-in-collective-worship-legal-case-will-provide-alternative-assemblies/[/ref]
In Scotland, all schools are required to hold occasions for Religious Observance, however there is no minimum number of sessions, with guidance suggesting it takes place “sufficiently frequently to have an impact on the spiritual development of the school community”. Religious Observance is defined by the government as: “Community acts which aim to promote the spiritual development of all members of the school’s community and express and celebrate the shared values of the school Community”.
Children and Young People are not given the right to opt out of these religious observance sessions, however parents and guardians can withdraw their children. If pupils do not attend sessions due to parental opt-out, government guidance states they must be provided with “a meaningful alternative” by the school.
Humanist Society Scotland has campaigned for children and young people to have their own right to opt-out of Religious Observance and have previously taken legal action on the subject in line with recommendations from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. In 2016 Humanist Society Scotland led a court challenge to require Scottish Ministers change the law to ensure young people can realise their own right to freedom of thought, belief and religion. The charity was not able to test the human rights arguments however they did force the Scottish Government to issue updated guidance to give young people a voice in the process for the first time.[ref]humanism.scot/what-we-do/news/humanists-to-challenge-scottish-government-in-courts/[/ref]
Family, community and society
There has been a marked decline in people’s declared religious affiliation, particularly in Great Britain. The 2011 Census found 59% ticking the Christian box (down from 72% in 2001), 25% (15%) ticking no religion, and 5% (3%) ticking Muslim. Other religions totalled 4% (3%) and 7% (8%) declined to answer.
In contrast to the Census, the British Social Attitudes survey measures religious belonging; in 2018 it found 52% declaring no religion (up from 49% declaring in 2014). A 2016 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey found 58% have no religion, rising to 74% of 18 to 34-year-olds.[ref]scotcen.org.uk/news-media/press-releases/2017/july/scots-with-no-religion-at-record-level/?_ga=2.84817945.1436756900.1511782481-1070362660.1511782481[/ref]
There is a wide range of humanist and other non-religious organisations.
Marriage law discrimination
Religious people in the UK have a choice between being married by a civil registrar and being married by a representative of their religion who shares their approach to life. Except in Scotland and Northern Ireland, non-religious people have no option other than the civil registrar. Each year thousands of people in England and Wales choose to have a wedding ceremony performed by a humanist celebrant but their weddings are not legally recognised.
In 2020, the High Court ruled, in a case brought by six humanist couples wanting legally recognised humanist marriages in England and Wales, that the failure to provide legally recognised humanist marriages means that ‘the present law gives rise to… discrimination’. However, the Court did not issue a declaration of incompatibility with the law, which would instruct the Government to grant legal recognition, on the basis that the Government should be given more time to resolve the matter. There is ongoing litigation on this point.[ref]https://humanism.org.uk/2020/07/31/humanist-marriage-case-outcome/[/ref]
In Scotland, however, humanist marriages have been legally recognised since 2005, and in Northern Ireland this has been the case since 2018. In 2019, the total number of humanist weddings in Scotland exceeded Christian marriages for the first time.[ref]https://humanism.org.uk/2020/06/25/more-humanist-than-christian-marriages-in-scotland-in-2019-new-stats-show[/ref]
One law for all?
Historically, the Church of England’s canon law and its courts were deeply entangled with the secular law and courts but currently, although canon law is still part of the law of the land, the ecclesiastical system is almost entirely concerned with internal matters to the Church. Other denominations and religions often have their own internal tribunals but again in most instances there is little conflict between the systems. The emergence of sharia councils (not courts) run by local Muslim imams has, however, raised concerns. Their business is almost entirely to provide (or refuse) religious divorces to Muslim women, and there is strong evidence of patriarchal and misogynist behaviour by some councils. A Muslim Arbitration Tribunal operates under the general law on arbitration and occasionally sharia councils are also reported to do so. Concern focuses on rulings that may stray into matters not legally open to sharia councils – child custody, inheritance and criminal matters. The campaign group One Law For All explains, “Proponents argue that those who choose to make use of Sharia courts and tribunals do so voluntarily and that according to the Arbitration Act parties are free to agree upon how their disputes are resolved. In reality, many of those dealt with by Sharia courts are from the most marginalised segments of society with little or no knowledge of their rights under British law. Many, particularly women, are pressured into going to these courts and abiding by their decisions.”[ref]https://onelawforall.org.uk/[/ref]
The last Census, conducted in 2011, showed 4.8% of the UK population is Muslim. The number contained within
this figure who are secular or non-religious is difficult to establish. Evidence indicates that some people who have been raised as Muslim will go on to become non-religious (sometimes identifying as ex-Muslim), however they may be forced to hide their non-religious views, either by the social taboo against “apostasy” or outright threats of ostracism or in extreme cases against their lives. Similar problems are sometimes reported within other extremely conservative religious groups – Christian Exclusive Brethren and Charedi Jewish communities, for example. In November 2015, the hashtag #ExMuslimBecause trended in the UK for several days, as part of a ‘coming out’ campaign.[ref]bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-34357047[/ref]
Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values
UK law, incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights, protects freedom of expression and freedom of association and assembly, and the UK is known for its strong and diverse media and active civil society.
However, some sections of the British press have a reputation for subtly or not so subtly playing into far-right nationalist views. A report for the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2015 comparing press coverage on the migration crisis in Europe, found that “coverage in the United Kingdom was the most negative, and the most polarised. Amongst those countries surveyed, Britain’s right-wing media was uniquely [aggressive] in its campaigns against refugees and migrants.”[ref]unhcr.org/uk/protection/operations/56bb369c9/press-coverage-refugee-migrant-crisis-eu-content-analysis-five-european.html[/ref]
In 2019, in responding to campaigning by Humanists UK and other religion or belief groups working with asylum seekers in the UK, the UK Home Office, which deals with all immigration matters, introduced new specific training on processing and understanding claims made based on religion or belief. This followed several high-profile media cases where claimants were turned down for spurious or unfair reasons, including a humanist who was denied asylum on the basis that he could not name Plato and Aristotle as humanists, even though neither was.[ref]https://humanism.org.uk/2018/10/16/home-office-to-introduce-training-on-humanism-following-humanists-uk-asylum-campaign/[/ref]
The libel laws of England and Wales, which previously had been over-reaching, were reformed in 2013 to make it more difficult to use them to suppress free speech. However, the same libel laws as previously applied are still on the books in Northern Ireland. There is an ongoing campaign for reform there, too.[ref]libelreform.org/latest-news/libel-reform-northern-ireland[/ref]
“Blasphemy” laws in Scotland and Northern Ireland
“Blasphemy” law in England and Wales was abolished under the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act in 2008. However, two distinct laws in Scotland and Northern Ireland are still on the statute books. The last successful prosecution for “blasphemy” in Scotland was in 1843, when a bookseller Thomas Paterson was handed a fifteen-month prison term.
In 2020, the Scottish Government announced it will abolish the common law offence of blasphemy as part of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill. It follows a long campaign led by Humanist Society Scotland. The Scottish Government said that blasphemy ‘had not been prosecuted in Scotland for more than 175 years’ and its continued criminalisation ‘no longer reflects the kind of society in which we live.’[ref]https://humanism.org.uk/2020/04/24/humanists-uk-celebrate-scotland-becoming-latest-country-to-abolish-blasphemy-law/; humanism.scot/what-we-do/news/msps-consider-petition-blasphemy-laws/[/ref]
In 2019, Northern Ireland Humanists launched a campaign to repeal the blasphemy laws in Northern Ireland. As a result of this campaign all of the major political parties in Northern Ireland came out in support of repeal, except for the Democratic Unionist Party, which is opposed, and the Ulster Unionist Party, which is still forming its policy.[ref]https://humanism.org.uk/2019/07/12/dup-opposes-repealing-northern-irelands-blasphemy-laws-while-all-other-parties-come-out-in-favour/[/ref]
Some commentators believe that the Human Rights Act (1998) effectively makes the “blasphemy” laws in Scotland and Northern Ireland inapplicable. The Scottish Government’s official position in a letter from the Justice Secretary in 2017 supports this view and therefore has rejected calls to scrap the common law of blasphemy.[ref]humanism.scot/what-we-do/news/scottish-government-will-not-scrap-blasphemy-laws-new-letter-reveals/[/ref]
This is because under the Human Rights Act all courts in the United Kingdom must interpret the law such that it is compatible with the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which includes freedom of expression under Article 10. However, before the passage of the Human Rights Act, the claim that “blasphemy” law is inconsistent with the right to free expression was tested in the case of Wingrove v UK (1997) and was rejected on the basis that the state’s margin of appreciation on free speech could include restrictions on “blasphemy”. It therefore remains unclear whether there could be a prosecution under the laws in Northern Ireland and Scotland as they stand.
Social and ethical issues
There are mixed fortunes in the UK for advocacy of humanist values. In 2020, same-sex marriage was legally recognised in Northern Ireland. This followed recognition being granted in England and Wales in 2014, and Scotland in 2015. However, humanist marriage in England and Wales has been blocked whilst flourishing in Scotland since 2005 and Northern Ireland since 2018 (see above). Legislation to legalise assisted dying has consistently been rejected by both UK and Scottish Parliaments, despite popular support.
Under the terms of the Abortion Act 1967, abortion in England, Scotland, and Wales is generally accessible up to 24 weeks gestation, with women needing the permission of two doctors for one of several reasons, including long-term damage to the mother’s physical or mental health. Outside of these reasons, abortion remains a crime under the 1861 Offenses Against the Person Act, with the maximum sentence being life imprisonment. However, the Abortion Act did not extend to Northern Ireland. In October 2019, the UK Parliament passed legislation which removed abortion from criminal law in Northern Ireland.
From 2020, women in Northern Ireland have been able to access abortion services for any reason up to 12 weeks’ gestation, and up to 24 weeks in cases where the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or girl, greater than the risk of terminating the pregnancy.[ref]https://humanism.org.uk/2019/07/19/parliament-passes-landmark-northern-ireland-abortion-same-sex-marriage-legislation-with-early-2020-implementation-date/; wetrustwomen.org.uk[/ref]
The Scotland Act 2016 devolved the power to legislate on abortion to the Scottish Parliament. Scottish Ministers currently have no plans to change the law on abortion.[ref]gov.scot/Publications/2016/09/2860/6[/ref]
In 2017, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer wrote to all health boards to say the drug misoprostol, known as the abortion pill, can be taken at home.[ref]bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-41760959[/ref] Home use of misoprostol was introduced in Wales in 2018. Under emergency powers enacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, women in England and Scotland also became able to access abortion services at home. The UK Government has announced that it will consult on whether to extend this provision beyond the pandemic, and the Scottish Government has launched a similar consultation.[ref]https://humanism.org.uk/2020/03/30/women-in-england-reportedly-to-receive-abortion-care-at-home-during-covid-19/[/ref]
Communications privacy and civil liberties concerns
In November 2016, the UK Parliament passed the Investigatory Powers Act, sometimes referred to as “the Snooper’s Charter”. The law grants new “hacking powers” to police and security services, requires internet service providers to store all their customers’ website visits (at domain level) for a year, and requires phone companies to keep metadata on all phone calls. The data may be made available on request, without judicial oversight, to various public authorities, including some bodies which have no direct relationship to national security (e.g. the Department of Work and Pensions and the Food Standards Agency). The Investigatory Powers law has been severely criticised by civil liberties groups and privacy advocates. American whistleblower Edward Snowden called it “the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes further than many autocracies.” Amnesty UK said the law would “violate the human rights of every single person in the UK.” Open Rights Group (ORG) said the law set a dangerous international precedent.[ref]theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/19/extreme-surveillance-becomes-uk-law-with-barely-a-whimper; amnesty.org.uk/blogs/yes-minister-it-human-rights-issue/urgent-stop-ipb-investigatory-powers-bill-snoopers-charter-human-rights; openrightsgroup.org/press/releases/2016/ipb-will-reach-beyond-the-uk[/ref]
Another new law, the Digital Economy Act, came into force in April 2017. It was set to require age verification procedures on all pornographic websites, and restricts the provision of “extreme” pornography, vaguely defined as material that is “grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character”. Open Rights Group criticised the bill before parliamentary approval as constituting “censorship of legal content”, and argued that it increased the risk of credit card fraud and personal data leaks by requiring sites to collect personal information. ORG adds: “Blocking websites is a disproportionate, technical response to a complex, social issue. The UK’s children need education, not censorship, to keep them safe.” After multiple delays, the plan to require age verification measures on pornographic websites was finally dropped in October 2019.[ref]theguardian.com/technology/2016/nov/23/censor-non-conventional-sex-acts-online-internet-pornography; openrightsgroup.org/campaigns/digital-economy-bill-hub/stop-uk-censorship-of-legal-content; bbc.co.uk/news/technology-50073102[/ref]