Ending Religious Discrimination: An Unequal Duty

Dr Anthony McRoy

The June 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.

The truth 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 September 11th.


Over the 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. In essence, the BNP incites British citizens to attack other British citizens on the basis of their religious belief.

Existing & Proposed Legislation

There is 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 discrimination.

 

December 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.

 

Lord 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.

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