In the absence of a written constitution, the law establishes the Church of England as England’s state church. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland do not have state religions. Legislation establishes the Church of Scotland as Scotland’s national church, but it is not dependent on any government body or the queen for spiritual matters or leadership.
The Human Rights Act 1998 protects freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. It states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” The Human Rights Act reaffirms the European Convention of Human Rights, Article 9, which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, subject to certain restrictions that are “in accordance with law” and “necessary in a democratic society.”
As the supreme governor of the Church of England, the monarch must always be a member of, and promise to uphold, that Church. The monarch appoints Church of England officials, including lay and clergy representatives, on the advice of the prime minister and the Crown Appointments Commission. Aside from these appointments, the state is not involved in the Church’s administration. The Church of Scotland is governed by its General Assembly, which has the authority to make the laws determining how it operates.
In England and Wales, the law prohibits religiously motivated hate speech and any acts intended to incite religious hatred through the use of words or the publication or distribution of written material. The law defines religious hatred as hatred of a group because of its religious belief or lack thereof. Police are responsible for investigating criminal offenses and for gathering evidence; the Crown Prosecution Service, which is an independent body and the main public prosecution service for England and Wales, is responsible for deciding whether a suspect should be charged with a criminal offense. The maximum penalty for inciting religious hatred is seven years in prison. If there is evidence of religious hostility in connection with any crime, it is a “religiously aggravated offense” and carries a higher maximum penalty than does the underlying crime alone. In Scotland the law requires courts to consider the impact of religious bias when sentencing.
By law the General Register Office for England and Wales governs the registration and legal recognition of places of worship in England and Wales. A representative of the congregation, for example, a proprietor, trustee, or religious head, must complete and submit an application form and pay a fee of 29 pounds ($38) to a local registrar. The General Registrar Office typically provides registration certificates to the local superintendent registrar within 20 working days. The law also states buildings, rooms, or other premises may be registered as meeting places for religious worship upon payment of a fee; the General Register Office for England and Wales keeps a record of the registration, and the place of worship is assigned a “worship number.” Registration is not compulsory, but it provides certain financial advantages and is also required before a place of worship may be registered as a venue for marriages. Registered places of worship are exempt from paying taxes and benefit from participating in the country’s Gift Aid program. Gift Aid allows charities to claim back the 25 percent basic rate of tax already paid on donations by the donor, boosting the value of a donation by a quarter. The law only applies in England and Wales and does not cover the Church of England or Wales.
The law requires religious education (RE) and worship for children between the ages of three and 18 in state-run schools, with the content decided at the local level. Specialist schoolteachers, rather than religious groups, teach the syllabus. Parents may request to exempt their children from RE, and in England and Wales, students may opt out themselves at age 14, although religious worship continues until students leave school at either age 16 or 18. State schools that are not legally designated as religious require the RE curriculum to reflect “Christian values,” be nondenominational, and refrain from attempts to convert students. It must also teach the practices of other principal religions in the country. Students and, unless they are employed by faith-based schools, teachers may decline participation in collective worship, without prejudice. All schools not designated as religious, whether private or state-run, must maintain neutrality in their interpretation of the RE syllabus and must avoiding presenting one faith or belief as greater than another.
State schools in England and Wales that are not legally designated as religious are required to practice daily collective prayer or worship of “a wholly or mainly…Christian character.” Schoolteachers lead these assemblies; however, parents have the legal right to request their children not participate in collective prayer or worship. The law permits sixth form students (generally 16- to 19-year-olds in the final two years of secondary school) to withdraw from worship without parental permission or action. State schools not designated as religious are free to hold other religious ceremonies as they choose.
The government requires schools to consider the practices of different religious groups when setting dress codes for students. This includes wearing or carrying specific religious artifacts, not cutting hair, dressing modestly, or covering the head. Guidance from the Department of Education requires schools to balance the rights of individual students against the best interests of the school community as a whole; it acknowledges schools could be justified in restricting individuals’ rights to manifest their religion or beliefs when necessary, for example, to promote cohesion and good order.
In Scotland only denominational (faith-based) schools practice daily collective prayer or worship; however, religious observance at least six times per year is compulsory in all Scottish schools. Religious observance is defined as “community acts which aim to promote the spiritual development of all members of the school’s community.” Examples of religious observance include school assemblies and events to recognize religious events, including Christmas and Easter. Parents may make the decision to opt out their children from this requirement, but children may not make this decision themselves.
In Bermuda the law requires students attending state schools to participate in collective worship, characterized by educational officials as reciting the Lord’s Prayer, but it prohibits worship “distinctive of any particular religious group.” At the high school level, students are required to take a course that explores various religions until year 9 (ages 11-14); in years 10 and 11 (ages 15-16), courses on religion are optional.
There are two faith-based private schools in Bermuda that operate from kindergarten through high school. One follows the guidance of the North American division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The other follows principles of the Catholic Church.
The government determines whether to establish a faith-based school when there is evidence of demand, such as petitions from parents, religious groups, teachers, or other entities. If a faith-based school is not oversubscribed, then the school must offer a place to any child, but if the school is oversubscribed, it may use faith as a criterion for acceptance. Nonstate faith-based schools are eligible to claim “charitable status,” which allows for tax exemptions.
Almost all schools in Northern Ireland receive state support, with approximately 90 percent of students attending Protestant or Catholic schools. Approximately 7 percent of school-age children attend religiously integrated schools with admissions criteria designed to enroll equal numbers of Catholic and Protestant children without the intervention of the state, as well as children from other religious and cultural backgrounds. Students of different faiths are able to attend Protestant or Catholic schools but tend to gravitate toward the integrated schools. These integrated schools are not secular but are “essentially Christian in character and welcome all faiths and none.” RE – a core syllabus designed by the Department of Education, Church of Ireland, and Catholic, Presbyterian, and Methodist Churches – is compulsory in all government-funded schools, and, “The school day shall include collective Christian worship whether in one or more than one assembly.” All schools receiving government funding must teach RE; however, students may request to opt out of the classes and collective worship. Catholic-managed schools draw uniquely on the Roman Catholic tradition for their RE, while other schools may draw on world religions.
An estimated 30 sharia councils operate parallel to the national legal system. They adjudicate Islamic religious matters, including religious divorces, which are not recognized under civil law. Participants may submit cases to the councils on a voluntary basis. The councils do not have the legal status of courts, although they have legal status as mediation and arbitration bodies. As such, rulings may not be appealed in the courts.
The law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of “religion or belief” or the “lack of religion or belief.” The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) – a body sponsored by the Department of Education’s Government Equalities Office – is responsible for enforcing legislation prohibiting religious discrimination. The EHRC researches and conducts inquiries into religious and other discrimination in England, Scotland, and Wales. The minister for women and equalities appoints the members. If the commission finds a violation, it may issue a notice to the violator and seek a court order to enforce the notice. The EHRC receives government funds but operates independently. The Northern Ireland equivalent to the EHRC is the Equality Commission.
In Northern Ireland the law bans discrimination on the grounds of religious belief only in employment; however, schools may be selective on the grounds of religion when recruiting teachers. In the rest of the country, the law prohibits any discrimination, including employment discrimination, based on religious belief, unless the employer can show a genuine requirement for a particular religion.
Citing a limited broadcast spectrum, the law prohibits religious groups from holding national radio licenses, public teletext licenses, more than one television service license, and/or radio and television multiplex licenses, which would allow them to offer multiple channels as part of a single bundle of programming.
Twenty-six senior bishops of the Anglican Church sit in the House of Lords as representatives of the state Church. Known as the Lords Spiritual, they read prayers at the start of each daily meeting and play a full role in the life and work of the upper house.
The law requires visa applicants wishing to enter the country as “ministers of religion” to have worked for at least one of the previous five years as a minister and to have at least one year of full-time experience or, if their religion requires ordination, at least two years of part-time training following their ordination. A missionary must also be trained as such or have worked previously in this role.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In July then-prime minister May appointed Lord John Mann as the government’s Independent Advisor on Anti-Semitism. Then-prime minister May created the position to address reports of rising anti-Semitism in the UK. Lord Mann is responsible for providing the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government with independent advice on the most effective methods to tackle anti-Semitism. Lord Mann was charged with collaborating with the UK’s special envoy for post-Holocaust issues and the Special Envoy for the Freedom of Religion and Belief to ensure a consistent approach across domestic and international policy and efforts on anti-Semitism. In addition to speaking publicly and making statements to the media on prominent cases of anti-Semitism, he partnered with several organizations to raise awareness of anti-Semitism in the UK, including the Chelsea Football Club’s Say No to Anti-Semitism Campaign. In August new Home Secretary Priti Pratel told the media that she would “stand up to the threat of anti-Semitism” in the country.
In July Imam Qari Asim, Deputy Chair of the government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group, was appointed independent advisor to lead work to propose a definition of Islamophobia. The stated purpose of the appointment was to help strengthen government efforts to combat anti-Muslim sentiment by developing a formal definition of “Islamophobia” after an existing definition came under question for potentially undermining freedom of speech. The Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group was established in 2012 to develop and implement proposals to address anti-Muslim sentiment in the country. The working group is the government’s main forum for discussing issues of concern with Muslim leaders and the communities whose interests they represent and convey. It both disseminates and provides feedback on key policy messages and approaches. The group is made up of representatives from Muslim communities, independent experts, academics, and a range of government departments, including the Attorney General’s Office, the Crown Prosecution Service, the FCO, and the Home Office.
In September the Johnson government appointed Member of Parliament (MP) Rehman Chishti as the new prime minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief. The special envoy was given a mandate to coordinate religious freedom efforts across the government, faith actors, and civil society; advocate for the rights of all individuals who are being discriminated against or persecuted because of their faith or belief; and promote the country’s stance abroad in favor of religious freedom. Special Envoy Chishti was charged with leading the implementation of recommendations from the independent review into FCO’s support for persecuted Christians.
In January, then-foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt commissioned an independent report into the persecution of Christians worldwide and requested the Bishop of Truro conduct the research. The final report, released in May, stated, “Christianity is by most calculations the most persecuted religion of modern times.” In addition to implementing the report’s recommendations, the FCO team overseeing freedom of religion and belief was directed to “make freedom of religion or belief central to the FCO’s culture, policies, and international operations.”
In August Lord Ahmad, then serving as the prime minister’s special envoy on freedom of religion or belief, read a statement from the prime minister at the UN General Assembly in which he underlined the country’s commitment to freedom of religion or belief. The statement said, “Freedom of religion or belief is at the heart of what the UK stands for. We will do everything possible to champion these freedoms and protect civilians in armed conflict, including religious, ethnic, or other minorities.”
The law continued to require religious accommodation for employees when it considered such accommodation feasible. The prison service recognized the rights of prisoners to practice their faith while in custody. The pastoral needs of prisoners were addressed, in part, through chaplains paid for by the Ministry of Justice, rather than by religious groups. All chaplains worked as part of a multifaith team, the size and breakdown of which was determined by the size of the prison and the religious composition of the prisoner population. Prison service regulations stated that “…chaplaincy provision must reflect the faith denomination requirements of the prison.”
The military generally provided adherents of minority religious groups with chaplains of their faith. There were approximately 240 recruited chaplains in the armed forces, all of whom were Christian. The armed forces also employed five civilian chaplains as full-time civil servants to care for Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, and Muslim recruits. The Armed Forces Chaplaincy Policy Board was reviewing provision of chaplaincy for personnel of these religions and considering employing suitable chaplains in the reserve forces.
As of January there were 6,802 state-funded faith-based schools in England, representing 34 percent of all state-funded mainstream schools and serving approximately 1.9 million students. Of these, 6,179 were primary schools (ages three through 11), representing 37 percent of all state-funded primary schools, and 623 secondary schools (ages 11 through 16), representing 19 percent of all state-funded secondary schools. Church of England schools were the most common type among primary schools (26 percent); Roman Catholic schools were the most common at secondary level (9 percent). Additionally, at the primary and secondary levels, there were 72 “other Christian,” 36 Jewish, 25 Methodist, 14 Islamic, six Sikh, five Hindu, and two multifaith state-funded faith schools. There were 370 government-funded denominational schools in Scotland: 366 Catholic, three Episcopalian, and one Jewish. The government classified schools with links to the Church of Scotland as nondenominational.
In October the Welsh government launched an eight-week public consultation on proposals relating to the future of RE and Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE). Proposed changes include renaming the RE and RSE lessons “Religions and Worldviews” and removing the parental right to withdraw children from the lessons. The Welsh action followed a 2018 report by the Commission on Religious Education that recommended reform of RE in England, Scotland, and Wales, including a name change to “Religion and Worldviews.” The 2018 report followed a 2015 high court ruling that as part of the General Certificate of Secondary Education (a nationwide syllabus and academic qualification pursued by all students 14-16), schools (other than faith schools) must teach all religious and nonreligious world views without bias.
The Conservative Party faced allegations of anti-Muslim sentiment and anti-Semitism. During the Conservative Party leadership contest in June, candidate Sajid Javid in a televised leadership debate urged his rivals to pledge an independent investigation into “Islamophobia within the party;” which they all agreed to do. In November PM Johnson apologized publicly for Islamophobia in his party and said an earlier inquiry into all forms of discrimination in the Conservative Party would continue. Shortly after the general election in December, PM Johnson appointed a psychiatry expert, Professor Swaran Singh, to investigate how the party handled complaints of discrimination. Singh is a former Commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the country’s semi-governmental human rights watchdog. Then-Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly said Singh’s appointment would help the party “stamp out unacceptable abuse.” The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) stated it was angered by the broad scope of the investigation into “discrimination” rather than specifically into Islamophobia and accused PM Johnson of breaking his promise. MCB General Secretary Harun Khan commented, “This appointment is at risk of being seen in the same light as the Conservative Party’s customary approach to Islamophobia, that of denial, dismissal, and deceit,” adding, “We were promised an independent inquiry into Islamophobia specifically.” The inquiry did not begin by year’s end.
In September during a session of prime minister’s questions on the floor of the House of Commons, Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Deshi publicly called on PM Johnson to apologize for his comments about Muslim women in a 2018 opinion article. Johnson did not do so. In November, when asked by media if he apologized for the Islamophobia that existed in the Conservative Party, PM Johnson replied, “Of course, and for all the hurt and offence that has been caused.”
In September the Conservative Party suspended several members, including at least one official, who posted or endorsed anti-Muslim comments on Twitter, one of which stated Islam was “the religion of hate.” The BBC highlighted 20 new cases to the party. While the number of suspensions was not revealed, the party told media that those found to be party members were suspended immediately, pending investigation. After calling for the Conservatives to launch an independent investigation into the alleged Islamophobia since 2018, in May the MCB formally asked the EHRC to open an inquiry. By year’s end, the EHRC did not take action.
Members of the Muslim community in Northern Ireland expressed concern that they could not apply for funding from the UK government’s “Places of Worship Protective Security Scheme” because Northern Ireland is not included in the plan. They pointed to attacks on mosques in recent years as evidence that funding is needed to increase security. Leaders of the Belfast Islamic Centre reported excellent relations with local Police Service of Northern Island (PSNI), which they said reliably responded to calls and provided additional security at mosques during periods when mosques had additional worshippers, including Ramadan.
In October Conservative MP Crispin Blunt suggested in an interview that the British Jewish Community demanded “special status” regarding circumcision and ritual slaughter. Blunt supported calls for eliminating subsidies to the CST, an organization that provided security for the British Jewish communities and reported anti-Semitic incidents in the country. When questioned by the Jewish Chronicle, Blunt said the “Jewish community has a special place in Britain” and while the CST “does a good job in protecting” British Jews, his “anxiety is that we have got to get to where faith and non-faith communities all feel secure.” He added the country needed to get to “a place where the Jewish community does not feel the need to have its own security.”
CST recorded over 100 anti-Semitic incidents monthly during the year. The highest single monthly totals came in February and December and, according to CST, coincided with months when anti-Semitism within the opposition Labour Party was under particular scrutiny and the party and its leader, Jeremy Corbin, faced further allegations of anti-Semitism. The CST stated it was “hard to precisely disaggregate the impact of the continuing Labour anti-Semitism controversy upon CST statistics, but it clearly has an important bearing.”
A poll commissioned by the Jewish Leadership Council in March found 87 percent of Jewish adults in the country viewed Jeremy Corbyn as anti-Semitic, compared to just 1 percent for former Prime Minister Theresa May and 21 percent for the leader of the far-right UK Independence Party, Gerard Batten. The same poll found 42 percent of respondents would “seriously consider emigrating” if Corbyn became Prime Minister.
In May the EHRC launched a formal investigation into whether the Labour Party had “unlawfully discriminated against, harassed, or victimized people because they are Jewish.” This was only the second such EHRC formal investigation taken against a political party. According to media reports, the EHRC opened the investigation based on complaints from party members, including Jewish members of parliament, about anti-Semitism within Labour. In a press statement, the EHRC said the party had committed to fully cooperate with the investigation. A party spokesperson reiterated Labour’s intention to assist the investigation and rejected “any suggestion that the party does not handle anti-Semitism complaints fairly and robustly.” The announcement was welcomed by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, the NGO that first referred the Labour Party to the EHRC in July 2018. At year’s end, the EHRC did not release any interim findings of its investigation.
In October the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), an organization affiliated with the Labour party, announced its refusal to campaign for Labour in the event of a general election, and it carried out this pledge in the approach to the December 12 general election. The JLM cited a “culture of anti-Semitism,” but said it intended to remain affiliated to the party to “fight racism, rather than disaffiliate.” The JLM adopted a policy to campaign for certain Labour candidates who “have been unwavering in their support” for JLM.
Three weeks prior to the general election in December, spiritual leader of the nation’s Orthodox Jews Ephraim Mirvis wrote in The Times that the Jewish community was deeply anxious about the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister if Labour won because he had failed to stand up to anti-Semitism, including in his own party. The same day Mirvis’ commentary appeared, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby posted on Twitter, “That the Chief Rabbi should be compelled to make such an unprecedented statement at this time ought to alert us to the deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews.”
During the general election campaign, the Scottish National Party suspended its candidate for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Neale Hanvey, over anti-Semitic social media posts. Hanvey remained on the ballot as the party’s candidate because the suspension came too late for changes to be made. He was elected with a majority of 1,243 votes and will sit as an independent Member of Parliament until a disciplinary process is completed. Obervers stated that his election is thought to be the first time a candidate who was dropped by his party was elected as an independent.
In May vandals drew a 30-foot swastika on the side of the East London warehouse of Brexit Party candidate for the European Parliament and Jewish businessman Lance Forman, whose father was a Holocaust survivor. Police investigated the incident, but no arrests were made.
In March an Iranian Christian who said he converted to Christianity because it was a peaceful faith was denied asylum after a Home Office official used the Bible to argue that Christianity was violent and denied the applicant’s request. The Independent reported the refusal letter cited several biblical passages, including the book of Revelation, to say the Bible was “inconsistent” with the asylum seeker’s claim. The refusal letter said, among other things, “These examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a ‘peaceful’ religion, as opposed to Islam, which contains violence, rage, and revenge.” The Home Office then said the case of the Iranian Christian did not follow proper procedure and the asylum request was being reconsidered, with a resulting withdrawal of its refusal and a commitment to reconsider the application.
In March the Northern Ireland Humanists group publicly called for the repeal of the region’s 1891 and 1888 blasphemy laws. The Catholic Church and the Irish Council of Churches responded by referring to a 2013 statement acknowledging “that the current reference to blasphemy is largely obsolete” and suggesting new legislation against discrimination and hate crimes could be introduced to provide more effectively for the freedom of individuals to practice their faith openly. All major political parties declared support for repeal, except for the Democratic Unionist Party, which stated antidiscrimination and hate crime legislation did not provide adequate protection for Christians.
In June the Northern Ireland Department of Justice requested a judicial review of hate crime legislation in Northern Ireland. At year’s end the review was ongoing, with a full report due in May 2020. Northern Ireland was the only part of the country that did not have specific hate crime laws; rather, current legislation allowed for increased sentencing if offenses were judged motivated by hostility based on race, religion, disability, or sexual orientation. Crown Court Judge Desmond Marrinan led the independent review with the goal of extending coverage to marginalized communities currently not protected by legislation, including those discriminated against because of age and gender.
On July 30, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee launched an inquiry entitled, “Human Rights: Freedom of religion and belief, and human rights defenders.” The inquiry examined the FCO’s human rights programs and priorities, with a focus on freedom of religion and belief, and the work of human rights defenders overseas. The inquiry remained open to public input at year’s end.
In May then-prime minister May and several former prime ministers backed a proposal for a new Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre to be constructed in Victoria Tower Gardens, adjacent to the Houses of Parliament. The government committed 25 million pounds ($32.98 million) to the project, which was matched by a contribution from a newly established charity for the purpose. At year’s end, the project was pending approval by the local planning authority and Westminster City Council.
In September the Foundation for Jewish Heritage bought a former synagogue in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales with a grant from Cadw, the Welsh government’s historic environment service. Cadw contributed 44,000 pounds ($58,000), equating to 55 percent of the overall costs, towards the purchase of the building, which will be transformed into a Jewish Heritage Center.