Religious people experiencing 'unfair treatment' in Britain

The early findings into a study on perceptions of religious equality in Britain has identified "substantial reporting of unfair treatment on the basis of religion".

The research is being led by the University of Derby and is looking into the impact of the equality legislation brought in over the last decade.

The team is surveying religious organisations in England and Wales and has so far carried out interviews with individuals in Cardiff, Blackburn, Newham and Norwich. Recent legal cases will also be reviewed by the team.

Preliminary findings are being presented at a series of 'knowledge exchange workshops' taking place in Derby, Oxford, Cardiff, Manchester and London between now and November.

The University of Manchester, which is taking part in the research project, said in a press release that the project's initial findings had identified "substantial reporting of unfair treatment on the basis of religion or belief continuing across key areas of people’s lives".

New examples of unfair treatment are being reported by Christians, it said, with evidence pointing to an increase in issues relating to Sunday working.

"Project focus groups have highlighted the degree to which 'non-religious' people feel that Christianity receives privileged which result in unfair treatment for others, especially in education and in governance," the University said.

The knowledge exchange workshops will be joined by practitioners from the faith community and across the voluntary, public, private and legal sectors.

Feedback from the workshops will be integrated into the findings of the project.

Paul Weller, Professor of Inter-Religious Relations at the University of Derby, is leading academics from Derby and the Universities of Oxford and Manchester on the study.

He said: “A decade ago it was not illegal in England and Wales to discriminate on grounds of religion or belief, so at that time those who reported unfair treatment on the basis of religion or belief had little scope for remedy.

“Since then we have had the 2003 Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations, Incitement to Racial and Racial Hatred Act, 2006, and the 2006 and 2010 Equalities Acts.

"Although unfair treatment on the basis of religion or belief continues, evidence from our field research suggests that, particularly in the public sector, these legal changes have contributed to policy development and institutional change, resulting in some improvements in both inclusive consultation and practice.”

He continued: “The progress facilitated by new law has also highlighted unresolved tensions. We are still awaiting outcomes of key cases now before the European Court of Human Rights. The uncertainties mean that individuals and groups continue to feel unfairly treated on different grounds.”

The ‘knowledge exchange workshops’ take place in Derby on September 19, Oxford on October 5, Manchester on October 11, Cardiff on October 25 and London on November 7.

The final results of the study will be published in 2013.

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