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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

United Kingdom

International Religious Freedom Report 2004
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 as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 94,525 square miles, and its population in mid-2002 was approximately 59.2 million. The April 2001 census 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 reported 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 9 million (15.5 percent) of those responding stated they have no religion. The census's religion question was voluntary, and only 7.3 percent chose not to respond.

Information on membership in Christian denominations was not recorded in the 2001 census. In 2003 the Office for National Statistics indicated 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 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), the Church of Christ, Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses, 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 promotion of religious tolerance.

Most 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 and promote 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. According to the Crown Prosecution Service's annual report for 2002-03 (published in March), 18 cases were prosecuted under this law between December 2001 (when the law took effect) and the end of March 2003. Of these cases, eight resulted in a conviction on a religiously aggravated charge, two in conviction on a nonaggravated charge, one was advised before charges were brought that there was insufficient evidence to proceed, and seven were acquitted or prosecution was otherwise discontinued.

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's connection with the Church of England is the subject of ongoing public debate. In 2003 a nongovernmental Commission on the Future of the Monarchy called for the Queen to be stripped of the title of Supreme Governor.

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 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.

The Government has indicated it has no plans to move towards disestablishment of the Church unless both the Church and the public favor such a move, and takes the view that establishment is deeply embedded in the nation's history and in no way indicates a lack of respect for other faiths. Official events take an inclusive approach; for example, the national Remembrance Day Service, conducted under the auspices of the Church of England, also includes representatives of a broad range of faiths. The Government makes efforts to address specific needs of different faith communities, such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's provision of a special hajj delegation to provide consular and medical assistance to British Muslims on pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

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 approximately 7,000 state-funded schools with a religious character in England. All but 42 of these schools are Anglican, Catholic, or Methodist schools; there is also a well-established tradition of state support for Jewish 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. In May a House of Commons select committee investigating the causes of race riots in the North of England in 2001 recommended that the government refuse to license any new faith schools unless the school could show a commitment to multiculturalism and proposed the schools should do more to attract a diverse student body.

Almost all schools in Northern Ireland receive state support. In Northern Ireland, more than 90 percent of students attend schools that are either predominantly Catholic or Protestant. Integrated schools serve approximately 5 percent of school-age 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 3 years before government funding begins. Demand for places in integrated schools 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 syllabuses are required to reflect the predominant place of Christianity while taking account of the teachings and practices of other principal religions in the country. Syllabuses 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 student bodies are characterized by a substantial percentage of religious minorities, 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 2003, Parliament approved the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations of 2003, which adopted a European Commission Directive against religious discrimination. The regulations prohibit employment discrimination based on religious belief, except where there is a "genuine occupational requirement" of a religious nature. The Government attempts to raise awareness of protections under the new regulations through help lines and good practice advice. The regulations, which specifically do not apply in Northern Ireland, came into force in December 2003.

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 2003, 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. In March the Home Office published a report, "Working Together: Co-operation between Government and Faith Communities," in partnership with senior faith community representatives. The report specifically recommends measures to ensure government consultations include relevant input from faith communities when forming policy, to assess the extent to which faith communities benefit from government funding programs and how to address funding deficiencies, and to involve the different faith communities in national services and celebrations in a way that reflects the diversity of the country. The Home Office's Faith Communities Unit will lead on following the report's recommendations, and a Home Office Steering Group will evaluate the effect of its recommendations in 2005.

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.

According to a 1999 decision of the Charity Commission, a quasi-judicial, independent body established by law as the regulator and registrar for charities, the Church of Scientology does not come within the charity law definition of a religion. The Church of Scientology has not exercised its right of appeal to the court against the commission's decision. 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 recognize Scientology as a religion for the purpose of facilitating prison visits by ministers, although prisoners who are adherents of Scientology are free to register their adherence and to manifest their beliefs consistent with good order and discipline in prisons. In order to meet the needs of individual prisoners, the Prison Service allows any prisoner registered as a Scientologist to have access to a representative of the Church of Scientology if he wishes to receive its ministry.

The Reverend Sun Myung Moon, leader of the Unification Church, has been excluded from the country since 2003 following a decision by the Home Secretary. Reverend Moon subsequently applied for entry clearance to enable him to visit. This was refused as a consequence of the exclusion, and Reverend Moon appealed against this refusal on human rights grounds. An Immigration Adjudicator dismissed this appeal in April.

Other than some Anglican bishops' inclusion in 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. At the end of the period covered by this report, the Government had not reviewed the question and the blasphemy law had not been abolished or revised.

In May the Home Office published the results of a 2001 survey of attitudes toward religion in England and Wales. In response to a question about perceptions of whether there was sufficient protection against religious discrimination, the majority of respondents said the Government was doing about the right amount to protect the rights of persons belonging to different religions. More respondents affiliated to Hindu (70 percent), Sikh (62 percent), and Muslim (62 percent) faiths gave favorable responses than those with Christian affiliation (53 percent). A sizeable minority of respondents indicated the Government was doing too little to protect religious rights. This perception was most prevalent among Muslims (34 percent) and Sikhs (34 percent).

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. A 50/50 recruitment policy has been implemented, and by the end of the period covered by this report, the proportion of Catholics represented in the PSNI had risen to 15 percent.

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.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in British 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 157 attacks against both Catholic and Protestant churches, schools, and meeting halls in 2003. 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, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and government and police officials helped ensure public order.

From July 2003 through May 2004, the Community Security Trust (CST) recorded 490 anti-Semitic incidents in the country. CST recorded 40 assaults and 69 instances of desecration and damage to property. In August 2003, a group of teenagers threw stones and shouted racial abuse at a hall of residence in Swansea occupied by holidaying Orthodox Jewish families in what police describe as a racially motivated incident. The events followed the desecration of the Swansea Synagogue in July 2003 by suspected far-right attackers. The media also reported instances of desecration of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries. Nazi slogans and swastikas were painted on 11 Jewish gravestones at a Southampton cemetery in July 2003, and in August 2003, 20 Jewish gravestones were damaged at Rainsough cemetery in Manchester. Police investigated the attack as a racist incident. In November 2003, vandals desecrated 21 graves at a Jewish cemetery in Chatham, East Kent.

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 on 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.

In June the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia (a nongovernmental commission set up by the Runnymede Trust) issued a report criticizing the Government for failing to do enough to incorporate Muslim communities into British public life. Muslim groups themselves have also expressed concern that the application of antiterrorism legislation has disproportionately targeted the Muslim community. In December 2003, after a meeting with representatives of the Muslim Council of Britain, the Home Secretary gave assurances that he would not tolerate inappropriate use of antiterrorism powers and agreed to begin quarterly meetings with Muslim leaders to discuss issues affecting British Muslims.

The Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism (FAIR), a Muslim advocacy group, recorded 29 incidents of assault or threatening behavior against Muslims during the year. They believe many more went unreported. Several incidents involved assault and threatening behavior toward Muslims wearing traditional clothing, including women in headscarves. In February vandals attacked a mosque in Chester, smashing windows and shouting abuse at the imam and visitors. A number of incidents of violence and threats against Muslims, including an anthrax hoax against a mosque in Birmingham and the abduction and assault of a schoolgirl in Essex, took place in the days following the Madrid bombings in March. Also in March, at least 40 Muslim graves were desecrated at a cemetery in southeast London. The Metropolitan police investigated the incident as a hate crime. In April police investigated a "suspicious" fire at the Al-Khoei Islamic Center in London. The fire destroyed a large tent erected for a religious festival. No arrests had been made by the end of the period covered by this report.

Employment discrimination on religious grounds is prohibited by law in Northern Ireland. A broad network of laws, regulations, and oversight bodies work to ensure that there is equal opportunity for employees of all religious faiths.

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 NGO 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, 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 as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

The U.S. Embassy encouraged interfaith dialogue to promote religious tolerance. Embassy representatives attend regular meetings of the "Three Faiths Forum." In fall 2003, the Deputy Chief of Mission hosted an Iftaar dinner for Muslim leaders in the country at the end of Ramadan. The Embassy's outreach to religious communities continued during the period covered by this report. On the second anniversary of September 11, 2001, Embassy staff attended a multifaith service at West London Synagogue. Embassy officers also spoke on religious tolerance on numerous occasions at venues including the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies, the Oxford Jewish Society, the Sternberg Center for Judaism, and the Three Faiths Forum. In June the Embassy hosted a roundtable on "Religion and the Media" with domestic journalists from both the mainstream and religious press and co-sponsored a visit to the country by Dr. Judea Pearl (father of slain journalist Daniel Pearl) and Dr. Akhbar Ahmed (Ibn Khaldin Professor of Islamic Studies at American University), who conducted a public Jewish-Muslim dialogue. Embassy officers were in regular contact with the Board of Jewish Deputies, the Chief Rabbi's Office, the Muslim College, and the Muslim Council of Britain.

In Northern Ireland, long-standing 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 dialogue between the two largest religious communities.

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