United Kingdom

International Religious Freedom Report 2002
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The law provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. 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. Centuries-old sectarian divisions--and instances of violence--persist 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 in 2000 was approximately 59.8 million. There are no official statistics collected on religious beliefs or church membership, except in Northern Ireland. The census conducted in April 2001 contained 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.

The Office for National Statistics 2002 yearbook estimates that 40 million persons (approximately 65 percent of the population) identify themselves as Christians. Approximately 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. Approximately 8.7 percent of the population attends 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 is affiliated with the 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 of other faiths, including Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism. Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu communities tend to be concentrated around larger cities. Approximately 30 percent of the population do not identify with a religion.

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

The fear of intercommunal violence has, over the years, led to a pattern of segregated communities in Northern Ireland. As a result, Protestant and Catholic families have moved away from mixed or border neighborhoods.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The law provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. The law provides for the freedom to change one's religion or belief. The 2001 Anti-Terrorism, Crime, and Security Act (which became law in December 2001) covers "religiously aggravated offenses," based on existing assault, harassment, criminal damage, and public order offenses. Those convicted of "religiously aggravated offenses" face higher maximum penalties where there is evidence of religious hostility in connection with a crime.

There are two established (or state) churches, the Church of England (Anglican) and the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian). The monarch is the "Supreme Governor" of the Church of England and always must be a member of the Church and promise to uphold it. The monarch 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. The Church in Wales, the Scottish Episcopal Church, and the Church of Ireland are members of the Anglican Communion. There are no established churches in Wales or Northern Ireland. At the end of 2001, the Home Office still was considering a January 2000 university report on religious discrimination that claimed that the establishment status of the Church of England causes "religious disadvantage" to other religious communities. Those who believe that their freedom of religion has been infringed have the right to appeal to the courts for relief.

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. The Government funds the repair of historic church buildings, such as cathedrals, but such funding is not restricted to Church of England buildings. A Government grants program helps to fund repair and maintenance of listed places of worship of all religions nationwide. The Government also contributes to the budget of the Church Conservation Trust, which preserves "redundant" Church of England buildings of architectural or historic significance. Several similar groups in England, Scotland, and Wales repair non-Anglican houses 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.

While a majority of state-supported religious schools are Anglican or Catholic, there are a small number of Methodist, Muslim, and Jewish schools.

All schools in Northern Ireland receive state support. In Northern Ireland, approximately 95 percent of students attend schools that are either predominately Catholic or Protestant. Integrated schools serve approximately 5 percent of school-age children whose families voluntarily choose this option; however, there are not enough spaces available for those seeking integrated education.

The law requires religious education in publicly maintained schools 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 country. 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 Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion by public authorities. In Northern Ireland, the Fair Employment Act specifically banned employment discrimination on the grounds of religious or political opinion; however, unemployment rates are higher for Catholics than for Protestants (see Section III). 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. Noncompliance may result in criminal penalties and the loss of government contracts. Victims of employment discrimination may sue for damages. In December 2001, the Government published a consultation paper, "Towards Equality and Diversity," proposing national implementation of a European Commission Directive against employment discrimination on the basis of religion.

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 Christian, Jewish, and Muslim chaplains. The Advisory Group on Religion in Prisons monitors policy and practice on issues relating to religious provision. The military generally provides soldiers who are adherents of minority religions with chaplains of their faith.

In addition, 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.

In January 2002, the Prime Minister hosted a meeting of religious leaders as part of the Government's effort to promote interfaith dialog.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

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. Religious groups are not restricted from owning a range of local and regional broadcast licenses--including licenses for local digital radio, local and regional analog radio, cable and satellite channels--whose frequencies are more numerous and, therefore, not subject to provisions regarding broad audience appeal.

The Government does not recognize Scientology as a religion for the purposes of charity law. Scientology ministers are not considered ministers of religion for the purpose of immigration relations. Scientologist chapels do not qualify as places of worship under the law. The Prison Service does not consider Scientology as a religion and does not recognize it for the purpose of facilitating prison visits by ministers. However, Scientology prisoners are free to register their adherence to Scientology; this is recorded on their records.

Other than the House of Lords, membership in a given religious group does not confer a political or economic advantage on individual adherents. 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. The Removal of Clergy Disqualification Act 2001 removed restrictions that prohibited all clergy ordained by an Anglican bishop, as well as ministers of the Church of Scotland, from seeking or holding membership in the House of Commons.

While not enforced and 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 or lack of accommodation of religious beliefs by employers.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (formerly the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), Northern Ireland's police force, 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. Legislation commits the Police Service of Northern Ireland to hiring quotas to ensure that half of all new recruits are Catholic to redress a long-standing imbalance in the composition of the police.

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 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. Political, economic, and social factors contributed to problems between nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland, where centuries-old sectarian divisions persist between the Protestant and Catholic communities.

In 1998 the majority of citizens in Northern Ireland voted to support the 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.

The police in Northern Ireland reported approximately 30 attacks against both Catholic and Protestant churches, schools, and meeting halls in 2001. 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 almost exclusively is Protestant, have been prevented from passing through nationalist areas due to public-order concerns. In the fall of 2001, residents of the loyalist Glynbryn area of north Belfast protested, at times violently, against Catholic pupils of Holy Cross primary school on their walk to school each day. Although the residents claimed that their demonstration "was not against the children," the protest involved shouting sectarian abuse and throwing debris (including bags of urine) at the children. A blast bomb also was thrown at police seeking to protect the children.

According to the Board of Deputies of British Jews, there were 310 reported anti-Semitic incidents during 2001, compared with 405 in 2000 (adjusted figure). According to the Community Security Trust, between January and June 2002, there were 173 anti-Semitic incidents reported, including at least 28 assaults. Public manifestations of anti-Semitism largely are confined to the political fringes. According to the Board of Deputies, in 2001 distribution of anti-Semitic literature declined, while the number of physical attacks on Jewish persons and property increased. At the end of April 2002, suspected neo-Nazis desecrated a synagogue in the Finsbury Park area of north London, leaving windows smashed, religious artifacts defaced, and crude swastikas painted everywhere. Members of Parliament, including a senior cabinet minister, promptly visited the synagogue and severely criticized the attack in the strongest terms; two senior Labour and Conservative politicians united "to condemn those who daubed swastikas and smashed windows in a north London synagogue."

In the fall of 2001, there were isolated attacks against Muslims. Targets included persons wearing traditional Islamic dress, and buildings such as mosques and Muslim-owned businesses. The Government quickly condemned the violence and responded by including "religiously aggravated offenses" as part of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime, and Security Act 2001.

Employment discrimination on religious grounds is prohibited by law in Northern Ireland (see Section II). As a result of the stability generated by the peace process, unemployment in Northern Ireland dropped to less than 4.8 percent in March 2002--the lowest level in 30 years. However, the Catholic unemployment rate remains almost double the rate for Protestants.

The country has both active interfaith and ecumenical movements. The Council of Christians and Jews 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. In April 2002, the Prince of Wales launched a new nongovernmental organization, "Respect," to encourage voluntary time-sharing and mutual understanding among adherents of different religions.

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.

The U.S. Embassy encouraged interfaith dialog to promote religious tolerance. In the fall of 2001, the Embassy held meetings with the Muslim Council of Britain, leaders from the Sikh community, and representatives from "Rabbis for Human Rights." In January 2002, the Embassy hosted a speaker from the Islamic Awareness Project. In February 2002, the Ambassador met with representatives from the "Three Faiths Forum."

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 supporter of the peace process, the U.S. Government has encouraged efforts to diminish sectarian tension and promote dialog between the two largest religious communities.