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United Kingdom

Executive Summary

In the absence of a written constitution, the law establishes the Church of England as England’s state church and the Church of Scotland as Scotland’s national church. The law prohibits “incitement to religious hatred” as well as discrimination on the grounds of religion. The government created and filled two new positions dealing with religious freedom issues: an independent advisor on anti-Semitism and an independent advisor appointed to provide expert advice on a definition of “Islamophobia.” The government also appointed a new special envoy for freedom of religion or belief. In addition to coordinating efforts among faith groups in the UK, the special envoy will play a key role in the UK’s international advocacy for religious freedom and has been charged with implementing recommendations from an independent review into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO’s) support for persecuted Christians, completed in May. Following the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque attack, the government doubled the amount of funding from 800,000 pounds ($1.06 million) in 2018-2019 to 1.6 million pounds ($2.11 million) from 2019-2020 available to provide security at places of worship and related security training. This was in addition to a new five million pound ($6.6 million) fund to provide security training for places of worship across England and Wales. The main political parties and party members faced numerous accusations of religious bias. The Conservative Party suspended several members who posted or endorsed anti-Muslim comments on Twitter. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) asked the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to launch an inquiry into “Islamophobia in the Conservative Party”; however, no inquiry was launched by year’s end. Separately, after receiving a number of complaints, the EHRC launched an investigation into whether the Labour Party had “unlawfully discriminated against, harassed, or victimized people because they are Jewish.” A BBC documentary reported allegations of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party and the party’s and its leader’s mishandling the issue.

The government reported a 3 percent increase (to 8,566 offenses) in religiously motivated hate crimes in England and Wales in the 2018-2019 period. The annual report of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Community Security Trust (CST) recorded 1,805 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, the highest ever annual figure recorded by the organization, and 7 percent higher than the preceding year. This was the fourth year in a row in which CST documented a record high. Among the anti-Semitic incidents were 157 assaults and one incident classified as “extreme violence.” There were a further 710 incidents of nonviolent abusive behavior. CST recorded 697 anti-Semitic online incidents, a sharp rise from 384 in 2018. The most recent annual report from NGO Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks), which monitors anti-Muslim activity, showed 3,173 reports of anti-Muslim hate incidents in 2018, including 1,891 recorded by police. This was the highest number since the NGO’s founding in 2011. A European Commission (EC) survey published in September showed that 61 percent of respondents believed discrimination based on religion or belief was very or fairly widespread in the country, while 34 percent said it was fairly or very rare. A Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews conducted in December 2018 showed that 62 percent of respondents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in the country, and 44 percent believed it had increased over the previous five years. A number of interfaith initiatives took place throughout the year, including activities across the country during Inter-Faith Week in October.

Visiting senior U.S. government officials and embassy staff engaged with government officials and religious groups to advance international religious freedom issues, supported by a strong social media presence. In July and October, the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism met with government officials and encouraged British Jewish and interfaith communities to continue to speak out against religious hatred and intolerance. In a roundtable with the Archbishop of Canterbury and other faith leaders in May, the Secretary of State welcomed input by faith leaders in the policymaking process. In April the Ambassador met with the top leaders of the British Jewish community to hear their concerns regarding the rise of anti-Semitism in the UK and Europe. In October the Ambassador co-hosted an event with the FCO to celebrate International Religious Freedom Day, joined by the Minister of State for the Commonwealth, UN, and South Asia. Throughout the year, the embassy’s social media messaging on international religious freedom reached approximately 170,000 persons.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to Home Office figures for the 12 months ending in March, there were 8,566 recorded offenses of religiously motivated hate crimes in England and Wales, a 3 percent increase from the previous year. There was no breakdown by type of crime. Home Office statisticians said the increase likely reflected both a genuine rise in hate crime and ongoing improvements in crime recording by the police. According to Tell MAMA, a national project that records anti-Muslim hate crimes, the figures rose sharply in March immediately following the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. Tell MAMA recorded 95 incidents in the week following that attack; in a typical week the total was 30-35.

In September David Parnham was sentenced to 12.5 years in prison after admitting to police that he wrote letters encouraging individuals to commit acts of violence against Muslims by awarding points for anti-Muslim offenses.

In Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service reported 529 religiously motivated crimes in the 12 months ending in March, an 18 percent decrease from the 642 crimes recorded in the same period in 2017-18. In the year ending in March, court proceedings commenced in 92 percent of cases. A spokesperson for the EHRC attributed the decrease to improvements in the methods victims used to report hate crime, but added more work needed to be done to give victims the confidence to come forward.

The PSNI reported 22 religiously motivated hate crimes committed in 46 incidents during 2018-19, a decrease from 41 crimes reported in the previous period.

The annual report of CST recorded 1,805 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, the highest ever annual figure recorded by the organization and 7 percent higher than the preceding year. This was the fourth year in a row in which CST documented a record high. CST recorded 697 anti-Semitic online incidents, a sharp rise from 384 in 2018.

CST recorded 158 violent anti-Semitic assaults during the year, an increase of 25 percent in 2018 and the highest number of violent incidents ever recorded by CST in a single year. Almost half of these were recorded in three locales: Barnet and Hackney in London, and Salford in Manchester. There were 88 incidents of “damage and desecration” of Jewish property; 98 direct anti-Semitic threats; 1,443 incidents in the category of “abusive behavior,” which included verbal and online abuse, anti-Semitic graffiti, and individual cases of hate mail; and 18 incidents of mass-mailed anti-Semitic leaflets or emails.

Almost two-thirds of anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in Greater London and Greater Manchester – the two largest Jewish communities in the country. CST recorded 947 anti-Semitic incidents in Greater London during the year, three fewer than the 950 incidents recorded in London in 2018. CST recorded a decline of 11 percent in anti-Semitic incidents in Greater Manchester, from 251 incidents in 2018 to 223 in 2019.

According to a Catholic news service, in late April in Glasgow, Scotland, two Catholic churches were targeted by vandals. Anti-Catholic slogans were painted on a bus stop outside of Holy Family Church and vandals entered the sanctuary of St. Simon’s Church, smashing a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and overturning a Marian shrine.

In January Ephraim Borowski, the director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, said Jews were “actively considering” emigrating from Scotland because of rising anti-Semitism. He added, “In recent years there has been a very worrying increase in the level of anti-Semitism in the country.” His comments led a number of Scottish politicians to call for a renewed effort to address anti-Semitism.

In February Jacek Tchorzewski, a self-described radical Nazi and Polish national, was arrested at London’s Luton Airport on suspicion of terrorism offenses as he attempted to board a flight to Poland. Police recovered an “enormous amount” of digital documents, which included manuals on making explosives and weapons and material praising Hitler, neo-Nazism, and anti-Semitism and calling for genocide. In June Tchorzewski pled guilty to 10 counts of possession of information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing for an act of terrorism, and in September he was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison.

In March Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of Britain First, a nationalist party widely described as far right, was convicted of anti-Muslim hate speech by a Belfast court after making remarks at a “Northern Ireland against Terrorism” rally held in Belfast in August 2017. Fransen was sentenced to 180 hours of community service. Britain First leader Paul Golding and two other English men, John Banks and Paul Rimmer, were acquitted on similar charges.

In April Israeli author Tuvia Tenenbom noted that during a trip to Northern Ireland, he asked patrons in a Derry pub about Palestinian flags flying in the area. The patrons responded by describing Jews as the “scourge of the earth” and Israelis as “child-murdering scum.” At year’s end, the PSNI was investigating the incident. Leaders and representatives from across the all main political parties condemned the comments as “disgusting,” “vile,” and “disgraceful.”

According to The Daily Mail, an elementary school teacher was fired after telling Jewish students she would “ship them off to the gas chambers” if they didn’t finish their schoolwork.

Mark Meechan, who was fined in April 2018 for posting online videos of a pet dog taught to perform Nazi salutes, was selected as a candidate for Scotland from the right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in the May European elections. He was not elected after UKIP won less than 2 percent of the vote in Scotland. During the campaign, media reports highlighted he had previously used Twitter to promote racist and anti-Muslim views.

In June a Belfast resident was sentenced to four months in prison after phoning in a death threat in March to a Muslim resident of Birmingham, England whom he had identified on Facebook.

In July the founder of the self-styled anti-Islamic English Defence League, Tommy Robinson, was sentenced to nine months in prison on contempt of court charges for interrupting 2017 and 2018 trials of mainly Muslim men accused of sexual assaults against minors. In 2017, Robinson had called the defendants “Muslim child rapists.” He was released in September after serving nine weeks in solitary confinement.

In August media reported Jay Davison in Cardiff posted anti-Muslim and pro-Nazi comments on his social media account along with photographs of himself holding a shotgun. A jury convicted him of one count of stirring up religious hatred and two counts of stirring up racial hatred. A judge sentenced him to four years in prison.

In March the Irish Football Association condemned an online video appearing to show Northern Ireland soccer fans chanting, “We hate Catholics, everybody hates Roman Catholics.” Sinead Ennis, Sinn Fein Member of the Legislative Assembly and party spokeswoman for sport, called on the Irish Football Association to “identify and punish those involved.”

In the fall, a couple who said their children were being religiously indoctrinated during Christian school assemblies entered a judicial review claim, supported by national charity organization Humanists UK, that Burford primary school in Oxfordshire forced their children take part in Christian prayers and watch re-enactments of Bible stories, including the crucifixion. The couple withdrew their children from the assemblies but said the school refused to provide a meaningful alternative of equal educational worth. At the time the children enrolled, Burford primary school was a community school with no religious character. In 2015 it became an academy and joined the Church of England’s Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust.

In May the EC carried out a study in each EU-member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 61 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the United Kingdom, while 34 percent said it was rare; 93 percent would be comfortable with having a person of different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 97 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, 96 percent said they would be with an atheist, 96 percent with a Jew, 96 percent with a Buddhist, and 95 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if a child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 94 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 91 percent if atheist, 91 percent if Jewish, 89 percent if Buddhist, and 88 percent if Muslim.

In January the EC published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU-member state. According to the survey, 62 percent of residents in the country believed anti-Semitism was a problem, and 44 percent believed it had increased over the previous five years. The percentage who believed anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 53 percent; on the internet, 53 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 50 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 51 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 43 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 50 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 40 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 56 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 49 percent.

In November the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released the results of a survey on anti-Semitic views of the country’s residents. The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents whether they believed such statements were “probably true” or “probably false.” The proportion agreeing that various statements were “probably true” was: 33 percent that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the UK; 20 percent that Jews have too much power in the business world; and 18 percent that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.

In December the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights conducted a survey of 4,731 individuals who identified as Jewish EU residents in order to understand their perceptions of anti-Semitism. Twenty-four percent said they had witnessed other Jews being insulted, harassed, or physically attacked in the previous 12 months, and 25 percent reported being harassed over the same period. Seventeen percent of respondents said they had felt discriminated against because of their religion or belief, and 88 percent thought anti-Semitism had increased over the previous five years.

In May the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland voted to adopt the working definition of anti-Semitism held by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The move, initiated by the Reverend Dr. Richard Frazer, the convener of the Church and Society Council, highlighted that anti-Semitic incidents in the UK, per the CST report, were “at a record high for the third year in a row.”

In June bishops of the Church in Wales adopted the IHRA definition, stating, “We note that the IHRA definition itself does not preclude criticism of the State of Israel, and that legitimately holding the Israeli government to account is not anti-Semitic.” They added, “In making the decision we recognize the excellent relationships between faith communities in Wales.” The decision was welcomed by the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Marie van der Zyl.

On November 6, the Chelsea Football Club adopted the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism – the first English soccer club to do so. The announcement was made via a press conference alongside the prime minister’s independent advisor on anti-Semitism, Lord Mann. As part of the soccer club’s “Say No to Anti-Semitism” campaign, Chelsea played the New England Revolution team in Foxborough, Massachusetts in a first of its kind friendly charity match named “The Final Whistle on Hate.” The match raised $4 million for organizations promoting equality and tolerance including the World Jewish Congress, CST, the Tree of Life Synagogue (Pittsburgh), the ADL, and the Holocaust Educational Trust.

In July the University of Essex announced plans to introduce mandatory training on anti-Semitism for university staff and to expand current “bystander training” for students, to include anti-Semitism. The training was recommended in a review conducted by the university following anti-Semitic incidents earlier in the year, according to media reports.

Several interfaith organizations operated in the country, including Faith Matters, the Inter Faith Network, and Interfaith Scotland. Various interfaith efforts took place throughout the year, including an LGBT Faith and Coffee evening in Camden, North London; high school interfaith days in Scotland; and interfaith seminars throughout the country. During Inter Faith week November 10-17, organizations across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland hosted events to strengthen interfaith relations at all levels, increase awareness of different and distinct faith communities, and increase understanding between people of religious and nonreligious beliefs. Interfaith Scotland hosted a cross-party Holocaust Memorial Day in the Scottish Parliament.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future