Ending Religious Discrimination: An Unequal Duty
Dr Anthony McRoy
2002 edition of the LgiU (Local Government Information Unit) magazine ran an
article by Gurbux Singh, the former Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality
(CRE). It was titled an equal duty and referred to the Race Relations Amendment
Act (2000) whereby public bodies had a “positive duty to eliminate unlawful
(racial) discrimination.” What the article and the legislation have failed to
tackle is the rise in religious discrimination that has taken place in the last
10 years and especially since the horrific events of September 11th.
The problem is exacerbated further since religious discrimination is not
codified within public bodies such as the police service and ends up being
listed as racial discrimination. Robust monitoring of the problem cannot
therefore take place.
is that certain communities have suffered greatly due to discrimination and from
the incitement of religious hatred. For example, the Islamic community has borne
the brunt of these two evils and there are numerous cases of attacks against the
community. These have ranged from assaults within schools to the vicious attack
that led to an Afghan taxi driver being permanently paralysed, shortly after
last few years the British National Party has changed its focus from racial
groups to the Islamic community. Gone are the days when their hatred was aimed
at the Black, Jewish and Asian communities. The BNP now regards the Islamic
community as fair game and it’s web-sites spews out anti-Muslim vitriol that
clearly incites religious hatred towards this group.
essence, the BNP incites British citizens to attack other British citizens on
the basis of their religious belief.
& Proposed Legislation
currently no existing statutory legislation that protects religious groups such
as the Muslim, Sikh and Hindu communities. Organisational policies may protect
such groups from religious discrimination though this depends on how skilled the
policy departments have been in drafting them up. Such groups have attempted to
obtain relief through the Race Relations Act (1976) and the Human Rights Act
(1998) however these pieces of legislation were not designed to combat religious
2003 should see the implementation of European Union Law (Article 13 of the
Treaty of Amsterdam) that is targeted specifically towards eliminating religious
discrimination. The adoption of such legislation has taken far too long, though
once again, a loophole has become apparent in the system. Article 13 does not
protect against the offence of incitement of religious hatred. This loophole has
been and will continue to be manipulated by far right groups who see British
Muslims as ‘the other’ within society.
Avebury introduced a Religious Offences Bill in the House of Lords in January
2002. This Bill will create a new offence relating to the incitement of
religious hatred and will curb the propaganda put out by far right groups. All
politicians across the political spectrum need to support this Bill otherwise we
are in danger of consolidating the position taken by the BNP and other far right
groups. We can facilitate community cohesion by protecting the most marginalized
members of our society or we can facilitate divisions through political
inaction. The choice is ours.