United Kingdom

International Religious Freedom Report
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Government policy provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The 1998 Human Rights Act incorporates the principle of religious freedom into law. The Church of England and the Church of Scotland are established churches.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. However, centuries-old sectarian divisions--and instances of violence--are part of the troubles in Northern Ireland.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 94,525 square miles and its population is approximately 59.5 million. There are no official statistics collected on religious beliefs or church membership, except in Northern Ireland. The census conducted in April 2001 contains a voluntary question on religion; the results are expected to be available in the spring of 2003. Although their methodologies differ greatly, the numbers collected by individual religious communities highlight patterns of adherence and belief.

About 65 percent of the population are estimated to identify with some form of Christianity. About 45 percent of the population identify with Anglican churches, 10 percent with the Roman Catholic Church, 4 percent with Presbyterian churches, 2 percent with Methodist churches, and 4 percent with other Christian churches. Only about 8.7 percent of the population attend a Christian church on a regular basis. Church attendance in Northern Ireland is estimated at 30 to 35 percent. An additional 2 percent of the population are affiliated with non-Trinitarian churches, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), the Church of Christ, Christian Scientists, and Unitarians. A further 5 percent are adherents to other faiths, including Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism.

About 28 percent of the population are nonreligious. About half of all parents choose to have their children baptized. A similar proportion of all weddings (41.3 percent) is conducted as religious ceremonies, but the number has decreased in recent years. The vast majority of funerals are religious, and surveys suggest that 63 to 70 percent of the population believe in God.

Between the Reformation and the mid-19th century, the country predominantly was Protestant. The Jewish community dates from 1656, with the arrival of Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal, but it experienced much of its growth during the 1800's and 1900's, when Ashkenazic Jews arrived from Eastern Europe. Irish immigration during the 1800's fostered the resurgence of Roman Catholicism, and later immigration from British colonies (and now the Commonwealth) led to the establishment of thriving Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu communities. These latter communities tend to be concentrated around larger cities.

The conflict between nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland has been drawn along religious lines, but the avowed policy of the Government remains one of religious neutrality and tolerance (See Section III).

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

Government policy provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels generally protects this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. The 1998 Human Rights Act, which entered into force in October 2000, provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom to change one's religion or belief.

There are two established (or state) churches, the Church of England (Anglican) and the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian). The Queen is the "Supreme Governor" of the Church of England and must always be a member of the Church and promise to uphold it. The Queen appoints Church of England officials on the advice of the Prime Minister and the Crown Appointments Commission, which includes lay and clergy representatives. The Church of Scotland appoints its own office bearers, and its affairs are not subject to any civil authority. There are no established churches in Wales or Northern Ireland, but the Church in Wales, the Scottish Episcopal Church, and the Church of Ireland are members of the Anglican Communion.

Religious groups are not required to register with the Government. No church or religious organization--established or otherwise--receives direct funding from the State. Religious bodies are expected to finance their own activities through endowment, investments, and fund-raising. Since 1977 the Government has appropriated funds for the repair of historic church buildings, such as cathedrals, but such funding is not restricted to Church of England buildings. The Government also contributes 70 percent to the budget of the Church Conservation Trust, established by the Church of England in 1969 to preserve "redundant" Church of England buildings of architectural or historic significance. A similar body, the Historic Chapels Trust, founded with the aid of a Government grant, works to preserve, repair, and maintain non-Anglican houses of worship, such as mosques, temples, or synagogues. No such bodies exist in Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland. In March 2001, the Government announced a countrywide grant scheme to help fund the costs for the repair and maintenance of listed buildings used as places of worship.

Most religious institutions are classified as charities and, as such, enjoy a wide range of tax benefits. (The advancement of religion is considered to be a charitable purpose.) In England and Wales, the Charity Commission reviews the application of each body applying for registration as a charity. Commissioners base their decisions on a substantial body of case law. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Inland Revenue performs this task. Charities are exempt from taxes on most types of income and capital gains, provided that the charity uses the income or gains for charitable purposes. They also are exempt from the value-added tax. Donors to charities also enjoy tax relief for their donations. Transfers to charities are exempt from the inheritance tax, capital gains tax, and stamp duty.

Some "voluntary schools" provided by religious groups enjoy state support. While the majority of these schools are Anglican or Catholic, there are a small number of Methodist, Muslim, and Jewish schools. There also are privately funded schools with religious foundations, including a growing number of Muslim schools.

Religious education in publicly maintained schools is required by law throughout the country. According to the Education Reform Act of 1988, it forms part of the core curriculum for students in England and Wales (the requirements for Scotland were outlined in the Education Act of 1980.) The shape and content of religious instruction is decided on a local basis. Locally agreed syllabi are required to reflect the predominant place of Christianity in religious life, but they must be nondenominational and refrain from attempting to convert pupils. All parents have the right to withdraw a child from religious education, but the schools must approve this request.

In addition schools have to provide a daily act of collective worship. In practice this action mainly is Christian in character, reflecting Christianity's importance in the religious life of the nation. This requirement may be waived if a school's administration deems it inappropriate for some or all of the students. Under some circumstances, non-Christian worship may instead be allowed. Teachers' organizations have criticized school prayer and called for a government review of the practice.

Where a substantial population of religious minorities characterizes a student body, schools may observe the religious festivals of other faiths. Schools also endeavor to accommodate religious requirements, such as providing halal meat for Muslim children.

The Government makes an active effort to ensure that public servants are not discriminated against on the basis of religion and strives to accommodate religious practices by government employees whenever possible. For example, the Prison Service permits Muslim employees to take time off during their shifts to pray. It also provides prisoners with Jewish and Muslim chaplains. The military generally provides soldiers who are adherents of minority religions with chaplains of their faith.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

In November 2000, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled inadmissible a challenge by the United Christian Broadcasters (UCB) to the existing ban on nationwide broadcast licenses for religious broadcasters. Due to the limited broadcast spectrum, the 1990 Broadcasting Act precludes certain groups, including those "wholly or mainly of a religious nature," from obtaining the few available national licenses. Due to their limited number, digital radio multiplex licenses, provided for in the 1996 Broadcasting Act, also are unavailable to religious groups. In December 2000, the Government published a White Paper recommending legislation to allow religious groups to own local digital radio licenses. Religious groups can and do compete successfully for the more numerous local and regional stations, and cable and satellite channels; they can advertise. The UCB now broadcasts by satellite without restriction.

The Church of Scientology asserts that it faces discrimination due to the failure of the Government to treat Scientology as a religion. Scientology ministers are not regarded as ministers of religion under prison regulations, thus are not permitted to provide official pastoral care to prisoners; nor are they considered ministers of religion for the purpose of immigration relations. The Government bases its treatment of Scientology on a 1970 judgment by the Court of Appeal, which held that Scientology chapels did not qualify as places of worship under the Places of Worship Registration Act of 1855. In 1999 the Charity Commission rejected a Church of Scientology application for charitable status, concluding that Scientology is not a religion for the purposes of charity law. The Church has not appealed the decision.

In general membership in a given religious group does not confer a political or economic advantage on individual adherents. However, on the national level, the House of Lords provides an exception to this rule. The Anglican Archbishops of York and Canterbury; the Bishops of Durham, London, and Winchester; and 21 other bishops, in order of seniority, receive automatic membership in the House of Lords, whereas prominent clergy from other denominations or religions are not afforded this privilege. Reform of the House of Lords, including the representation of other Christian denominations and other faiths, is being debated.

While it is not enforced and is essentially a legal anachronism, blasphemy against Anglican doctrine remains technically illegal. Several religious organizations, in association with the Commission for Racial Equality, are attempting to abolish the law or broaden its protection to include all faiths.

A February 2001 report commissioned by the Home Office found that some religious groups, particularly those identified with ethnic minorities, reported unfair treatment on the basis of their religious belief. Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and black-led Christian churches were more likely to report problems ranging from lack of recognition or inclusion of religious beliefs in education to discrimination and/or lack of accommodation of religious beliefs by employers.

In Northern Ireland, government programs and continued economic growth have reduced the overall unemployment rate (6.3 percent as of March 2000). Although there is some evidence that unemployment rates among Catholics remain higher than among Protestants, the often-quoted figure, based on 1991 data, that Catholic male unemployment is twice the rate of Protestant male unemployment, has not been updated reliably.

In accordance with the Good Friday Agreement, the Government established a 20-member Equality Commission. One of the Commission's mandates is to help enforce the Fair Employment and Treatment Order of 1998, which incorporates previous equality legislation and outlaws discrimination based on religion or political opinion in the workplace, and aids in access to goods, facilities, services, and premises. Under the order, all public sector employers and all private firms with more than 10 employees must report annually to the Equality Commission on the religious composition of their workforces and must review their employment practices every 3 years.

In addition Section 75 of the 1998 Northern Ireland Act stipulates that all public authorities must show due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity, including on the basis of religious belief. Each public authority must report its plans to promote equality to the Equality Commission, which is to review such plans every 5 years.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), Northern Ireland's police force, currently is not required to conform to Section 75, and Catholics now comprise less than 8 percent of the police force. However, the Police (Northern Ireland) Act of 2000, which incorporates many of the recommendations of the 1999 Patten Commission report, mandates measures designed to expand Catholic representation in the new Police Service of Northern Ireland. These include the establishment of an independent recruitment agency and a recruitment policy mandating equal intake of qualified Catholics and non-Catholics. The Patten Commission projected that, following implementation of these reforms, Catholics, who comprise approximately 40 percent of the population, would make up 30 percent of the police force within 10 years.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. While the troubles in Northern Ireland are the product of political, economic, and social factors, conflict between nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland is rooted in centuries-old sectarian divisions between the Protestant and Catholic communities.

The majority of citizens in Northern Ireland support the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which aims to create a lasting settlement to the conflict in Northern Ireland and a society based on equality of opportunity and human rights.

Employment discrimination on religious grounds is prohibited by law in Northern Ireland, although not in the rest of the country. Those who believe that their freedom of religion has been infringed have the right to appeal to the courts for relief. The 1998 Human Rights Act prohibits public authorities from discriminating on the basis of religion.

The police in Northern Ireland reported 31 attacks against both Catholic and Protestant churches, schools, and meeting halls in 2000. Such sectarian violence often coincides with heightened tensions during the spring and summer marching season. Some parades by the "Loyal Institutions" (the Royal Black Preceptory, Orange Order, and Apprentice Boys), whose membership is almost exclusively Protestant, have been prevented from passing through nationalist areas because of public-order concerns.

During the period covered by this report, there were no reports that the public had raised concerns with the Home Office regarding the Church of Scientology.

According to the Board of Directors of British Jews, the number of anti-Semitic incidents during 2000 was 398, compared with 270 in 1999 (adjusted figure). Public manifestations of anti-Semitism are confined largely to the political fringe, either far right or Islamist. In reaction to the October 2000 violence in the West Bank and Gaza, a number of synagogues were attacked by persons throwing bricks or other objects through windows, and anti-Semitic leaflets were posted in Manchester, Birmingham, and London. In October 2000, a Jewish man was stabbed in London in an apparent racist attack.

The country has both active interfaith and ecumenical movements. The Council of Christians and Jews, founded in 1942 to promote Christian-Jewish understanding, works to advance better relations between the two religions and to combat anti-Semitism. The Interfaith Network links a wide range of religious and educational organizations with an interest in interfaith relations, including the national representative bodies of the Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Zoroastrian communities. The Inner Cities Religious Council encourages interfaith activity through regional conferences and support for local initiatives.

The main ecumenical body is the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland, which serves as the main forum for interchurch cooperation and collaboration. Interchurch cooperation is not limited to dealings among denominations at the national level. For example, at the local level Anglican parishes may share their church with Roman Catholic congregations.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

In Northern Ireland, longstanding issues related to religion have been part of the political and economic struggle largely between Protestant and Catholic communities. As an active participant in the peace process, the U.S. Government has supported efforts to diminish sectarian tension and promote dialog between the two largest religious communities.