Religion & Belief and Discrimination

Discrimination with a focus on religious belief and religious difference is not a new phenomenon. For many years the West of Scotland has been characterised by sectarianism which continues today. Religious discrimination, and suspicion of religions, has come to the fore again due to a rise in Islamophobia - particularly after September 11th and the July 7 bombings in London.

In the past there was no specific protection against discrimination for most religious groups. There was, however, protection for people from Sikh and Jewish communities who were protected under the Race Relations Amendment Act as an ethnic group. Religion is often woven in with race and culture to form personal or group identity. Black/Minority ethnic communities, who can be on the outskirts of society, have often used religion to express and to sustain their identity.

There is now greater protection from religious discrimination through the Equality Act 2010. Religion & belief is a protected characteristic and everyone who is protected under law from discrimination, harrassment or victimisation is afforded the same level of protection.

For some people, their religion is important to their health yet often the cultural and practical dimensions of religion are not assessed and taken account of when individuals attend for health care. This can be considered as a form of discrimination, can cause distress and as a result can have a negative impact on the effectiveness of diagnosis and treatment. In the same way that other examples of equality categories often remain invisible to health care organisations and therefore in the way that services are planned, there is lack of data on patients for whom religion is significant to their wellbeing. In addition, strong views on any particular form of religion can lead to prejudice and discrimination against other beliefs – often referred to as sectarianism. This too can have an impact on the physical and psychological wellbeing of individuals.There can also be assumptions that everyone has a faith of some description despite of a large percentage of people who consider themselves to be atheist. Any assumptions about faith can lead to experience of discrimination.

 What is religion and belief discrimination? - a short film by the Equality & Human Rights Commission

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