United Kingdom

International Religious Freedom Report 2003
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. The census conducted in April 2001 contained a voluntary question on religion; the results were released in February 2003. The topic of religion was new to the official statistics for England, Wales and Scotland, although the subject had been included in previous census data for Northern Ireland. Although their methodologies differ greatly, the numbers collected by individual religious communities highlight patterns of adherence and belief.

The 2001 Census reports that approximately 42 million persons (almost 72 percent of the population) identify themselves as Christians. Approximately 1.6 million (2.7 percent) identify themselves as Muslims. The next largest religious groups are Hindus (1 percent), followed by Sikhs (0.6 percent) and Jews (0.5 percent). Over nine million (15.5 percent) of those responding stated they have no religion. The Census's religion question was voluntary, but only 7.3 percent chose not to respond.

Information on membership in Christian denominations was not recorded in the 2001 census. The Office for National Statistics 2003 yearbook indicates approximately 29 percent of the population identify with Anglican churches, 10 percent with the Roman Catholic Church, and 14 percent with other Christian churches. 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.

In Northern Ireland, the 2001 Census showed that 53.1 percent were Protestants and 43.8 were Catholics. Church attendance in Northern Ireland is estimated at 30 to 35 percent. The divisions between nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland have largely evolved along religious lines. The policy of the Government remains one of religious neutrality and tolerance.

Catholics and Protestants continue to live in segregated communities in Northern Ireland, particularly in public housing ("housing estates") and other working class areas, although many middle class neighborhoods are mixed communities. Intimidation by paramilitary gangs often results in members of the minority community leaving housing estates, increasing the level of segregation.

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 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. Since the law took effect in December 2001, the police have sent 40 such cases to the Crown Prosecution Service. Although many of these remain ongoing, as of mid-July 2003, there were 11 convictions.

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. In June 2003, a nongovernmental Commission on the Future of the Monarchy called for the Queen to be stripped of the title of Supreme Governor. The Commission, which was set up by the Fabian Society and enjoys the full cooperation of the monarchy, explained that severing the links between the monarch and the Anglican Church would better reflect the religious and ethnic diversity in the country.

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. A February 2001 Home Office Research Study suggested 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.

The Government provides funding for a large number of so-called "faith schools." As of June, there were 6,938 state-funded schools with a religious character in England. The majority of these schools are Anglican and Catholic schools, but there is also a well-established tradition of state support for Jewish and Methodist schools. The Government has helped set up and fund a number of schools reflecting other religious traditions. These include four Muslim, two Sikh, one Greek Orthodox, and one Seventh-Day Adventist school.

Almost all schools in Northern Ireland receive state support. In Northern Ireland, over 90 percent of students attend schools that are either predominantly Catholic or Protestant. Integrated schools serve approximately 5 percent of school-aged children whose families voluntarily choose this option, often after overcoming significant obstacles to provide the resources to start a new school and demonstrate its sustainability for three years before government funding begins. Demand for places in integrated schools far outweighs the limited number of places available.

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, while taking account of the teachings and practices of other principal religions in the country. Syllabi must be nondenominational and refrain from attempting to convert pupils.

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. All parents have the right to withdraw a child from religious education, but the schools must approve this request. 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 bans employment discrimination on the grounds of religious or political opinion. 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 June Parliament approved the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations of 2003, which adopted a European Commission Directive against religious discrimination. The regulations, which are scheduled to enter into effect on December 2, 2003, prohibit employment discrimination based on religious belief, except where there is a "genuine occupational requirement" of a religious nature. The regulations specifically do not apply in Northern Ireland.

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 June the Department of Health issued new guidance for chaplaincy services in National Health Service hospitals that included interfaith support as a key role for chaplains.

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 June the Home Office opened its Faith Communities Unit, which is charged with promoting interfaith contact and improving government exchange with religious communities. The Faith Communities Unit is also undertaking a project of "faith literacy," to improve government employees' understanding of different religious communities.

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, prisoners who are adherents of Scientology are free to register their adherence to Scientology; this is recorded on their records. The Prison Service seeks to accommodate Scientologists' requests for visits from Scientology ministers by affording extra visiting privileges to prisoners who profess adherence to Scientology.

The Unification Church has attempted to have the ban on travel to the United Kingdom of its leader, Reverend Sun Myung Moon, lifted. While the Home Office has stated that Reverend Moon's presence would not be expected to generate any large-scale public disorder, on May 15, they sent a letter to Reverend Moon informing him that he should not attempt to enter the country based on the grounds that his "presence there would not be conducive to the public good for reasons of public order."

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. In June 2003, the House of Lords Select Committee on Religious Offenses published a report on its deliberations on a possible repeal of the Law on Blasphemy. The report, while failing to reach a clear conclusion, recommended that Parliament should consider arguments for leaving the blasphemy law as it stands, even though its use might become increasingly uncommon, but also seek ways of expressing in law the need for protection of 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 (PSNI) is not required to conform to Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act of 1998, which provides that "a public authority shall in carrying out its functions relating to Northern Ireland have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity." In relation to their percentage of the Northern Ireland population (44 percent), Catholics are underrepresented in the PSNI. 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 PSNI. Measures to increase Catholic representation in the PSNI include the establishment of an independent recruitment agency and a recruitment policy mandating equal intake of qualified Catholics and non-Catholics. The 50/50 recruitment policy has been implemented, with the first class of recruits reflecting this policy graduating in April 2002. By the end of the reporting period, the PSNI was compiling statistics on the proportion of Catholics and Protestants in its ranks, and intends to make them available by the end of August.

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. In Northern Ireland, where centuries-old sectarian divisions persist between the Protestant and Catholic communities, political and cultural differences contributed to problems between nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland.

In 1998 the majority of citizens (72 percent) 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 79 attacks against both Catholic and Protestant churches, schools, and meeting halls in 2002. Such sectarian violence often coincides with heightened tensions during the spring and summer marching season. However, the 2003 marching season was the least contentious in many years, with no major incidents of interface violence. Negotiations involving members of "Loyal Institutions" (the Royal Black Preceptory, Orange Order, and Apprentice Boys, whose membership almost exclusively is Protestant), local leaders in nationalist areas, NGOs and government and police officials helped ensure public order.

From July 2001 through June 2003, the Community Security Trust recorded 351 anti-Semitic incidents in the country. These included 31 assaults and 28 instances of desecration and damage to property. The media also reported instances of desecration of synagogues and Jewish cemetaries. In May vandals desecrated 386 graves at a Jewish cemetery in East London. In December 2002, vandals desecrated graves with swastikas in the Jewish section of a cemetery in Milton Keynes. In October 2002, vandals attacked the Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation Synagogue in Edinburgh.

Advocacy groups report an increase in negative attitudes towards Islam and attacks against Muslims in the country after September 11, 2001. 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 London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission reported 344 incidents of violence against Muslims in the year after September 11, 2001, including at least three clubbing incidents with bats, the attack of a child with pepper spray, and the stabbing of a Muslim woman. The Government quickly condemned the violence and responded by including "religiously aggravated offenses" as part of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime, and Security Act 2001.

Isolated incidents targeting Muslims took place during the period covered by this report, including assaults and acts of vandalism. According to the Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism, a London-based monitoring group, anti-Islamic sentiments may have sparked rioting in June between local youths and predominantly Muslim Kurdish refugees in Wrexham, North Wales; the incident left one Kurd hospitalized with a fractured skull. In June a man in Peterborough was convicted of religiously aggravated harassment for distributing leaflets urging violence against Muslims. Also in June, anti-Muslim slogans were painted on walls at Birmingham's Central Mosque soon after the airing of a fictional BBC television program depicting the recruitment of suicide bombers in a Birmingham Mosque. In March vandals attacked Portsmouth's Jami'a Mosque.

Employment discrimination on religious grounds is prohibited by law in Northern Ireland. As a result of the stability generated by the peace process, unemployment in Northern Ireland dropped to 5.1 percent in March, among the lowest level in 30 years. The latest unemployment statistics for 2002 give average unemployment rates for Catholics at 8.05 percent and 4.5 percent for Protestants during the period from Fall 2001 to Summer 2002. According to the 2001 Labor Force Survey Religion Report released in February, the unemployment rate for 2001 for Catholics was 8.3 percent and 4.3 percent for Protestants. In 1993 the unemployment rates were 18.1 percent for Catholics and 9.4 percent 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 Network has a consultative relationship with the Home Office, from which it receives financial support. The Inner Cities Religious Council encourages interfaith activity through regional conferences and support for local initiatives. The nongovernmental organization, "Respect," continues to operate 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 January the Ambassador met with the "Three Faiths Forum's" co-founders and in the Fall 2002,
the Ambassador hosted an Iftar dinner for Muslim leaders in the country at the end of Ramadan. In March senior Embassy staff visited London's Ismaili Muslim community. The Embassy's outreach to religious communities continued in during the period covered by this report. On the first anniversary of the September 11, 2001, Embassy staff attended a number of remembrance services and events, including the Jewish Association of Cultural Societies, the West London Synagogue, and the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies. In January the Deputy Chief of Mission attended a reception at the Muslim Cultural Center. In February the Ambassador attended the enthronement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury.

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.