In the absence of a written constitution, the law establishes the Church of England as England’s state church, with the monarch as its head. 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 monarch for spiritual matters or leadership.
The 1998 Human Rights Act 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, which provides for 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 church administration. The Church of Scotland is governed by its General Assembly, which has the authority to make laws determining how it operates.
Blasphemy and blasphemous libel remain criminal offenses in Northern Ireland under common law. To date, however, there have been no convictions for blasphemy or blasphemous libel there. These laws prohibit “composing, printing, or publishing any blasphemous libel or any seditious libel tending to bring into hatred … any matter in Church or State.” The law applies only to Christianity.
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 2021, the Scottish Parliament passed legislation that criminalized “stirring up hate” on the basis of, among other things, religion or perceived religious affiliation.
Northern Ireland does not have specific hate crime laws, but legislation allows for increased sentencing if offenses are judged to be motivated by hostility based on religion, among other aggravating factors.
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 ($35) 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 one quarter. The law only applies in England and Wales.
The law requires 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 be nondenominational and refrain from attempting to convert students. RE instruction must also include the practices of principal non-Christian religions in the country. All schools not designated as religious, whether private or state run, must maintain neutrality in their interpretation of the RE syllabus and avoid 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 that their children not participate in collective prayer or worship. Teachers, unless they are employed by faith-based schools, may decline participation in collective worship, without prejudice. 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 for 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 belief 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 occasions, including Christmas and Easter. Parents or legal guardians may elect to have their children opt out from this requirement, but students may not make this decision themselves.
In Bermuda, by law, students attending state schools may participate in collective worship, characterized by educational officials as reciting the Lord’s Prayer, but the law 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. There is one primary school that follows Islamic principles.
In England and Wales, 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. Faith-based schools must follow the national curriculum but may choose what to teach in religious studies. They also have different admissions criteria and staffing policies, which may relate to religious beliefs, from state schools. 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. Independent (private) faith-based schools are eligible to claim “charitable status,” which allows for tax exemptions.
In Scotland, local authorities may establish a denominational school for any denomination or faith if they are satisfied that such a school is required, either in response to representations made to them by any church or denominational body acting on behalf of parents, or on their own initiative. These schools are run in the same way as nondenominational state schools, except that special time may be set aside for religious services, and an unpaid religious supervisor reports to the local authority on the religious instruction in the school. Independent faith-based schools are eligible for some tax exemptions, such as Gift Aid.
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 that have admissions criteria designed to enroll equal numbers of Catholic and Protestant children as well as children from other religious and cultural backgrounds. Students of different faiths may attend Protestant or Catholic schools but tend to gravitate toward the integrated schools. These integrated schools are not secular but, according to the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, are “essentially Christian in character and welcome all faiths and none.” RE – a core syllabus designed by the Northern Ireland Department of Education, Church of Ireland, and Catholic, Presbyterian, and Methodist Churches – is compulsory in all government-funded schools, and by law each school day must include collective Christian worship. All schools receiving government funding must teach RE; however, students may opt out of the classes and collective worship. Catholic-managed schools draw on the 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 and requires “reasonable” religious accommodation in the workplace for employees. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is responsible for enforcing legislation prohibiting religious and other 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 EHRC finds a violation, it has a range of powers at its disposal, including offering guidance or initiating court proceedings, resulting in binding, legally enforceable judgments. 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 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.
There are separate legal regimes for civil marriage and civil partnerships. Civil partnerships are formed when parties sign and register a civil partnership document, with no words required to be spoken. Civil marriages are solemnized by saying a prescribed set of vows. In England, Northern Ireland, and Wales, civil partnership ceremonies must be nonreligious. They must not include religious music or readings and must be free of obvious, specifically religious connotations. In Scotland, civil partnership ceremonies may be conducted by religious or humanist leaders. Nonreligious belief (i.e., humanist) marriages are legally recognized in Scotland and Northern Ireland but not in England and Wales, where “religious” marriages must take place in registered places of worship. In England and Wales, humanists must have a civil marriage alongside any humanist wedding if they want to be legally married. There are four categories of religious marriage: Church of England and Church in Wales, Jewish, Quaker, and others (e.g., Muslim or Hindu). Anglican marriages must be conducted by a member of the clergy, who registers the marriage. Jewish and Quaker marriages are conducted in accordance with appropriate religious rites, and the officiant registers the marriage. Other religious marriages must take place in a registered place of worship, have at least two witnesses present, and include the necessary declarations; a registrar or a person certified by the registrar general (e.g., the imam) must then register the marriage.
In Bermuda, laws support the legality of religious marriages, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Baha’i marriages. The law supports civil unions for heterosexual and same-sex couples. Ceremonies must be performed by the registrar general, deputy registrar, or domestic partnership officer, with two witnesses.
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 a group to offer multiple channels as part of a single bundle of programming.
Twenty-six senior bishops of the Church of England sit in the UK House of Lords (upper house of Parliament) 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 work of the House of Lords.
The law requires visa applicants wishing to enter the country as “ministers of religion” to have a certificate of sponsorship for their job from a bona fide religious organization, proof of their knowledge of English, personal savings, and a travel history over the last year. The law defines “minister of religion” as a religious functionary whose main regular duties include leading a congregation in performing the rites and rituals of the faith and in preaching the essentials of the creed. “Minister of religion” includes anyone doing preaching and pastoral work or coming to the country as a missionary or member of a religious order.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Media outlets reported that in November, the Stratford Magistrate’s Court convicted Abdullah Qureshi of three counts of inflicting religiously aggravated grievous bodily harm and two counts of religiously aggravated assault. On August 18, Qureshi carried out two separate attacks against three Orthodox Jews: two adults on their way to synagogue in one incident and a 14-year-old boy walking to school in another. Qureshi told the court it was “just a coincidence” his three victims were all wearing traditional Orthodox Jewish clothing, but the court rejected this argument. The court postponed sentencing until early 2023 pending a mental health evaluation.
Media outlets reported that as of year’s end, the Scottish government had not implemented hate crimes legislation passed in 2021. In March, Police Scotland issued a press release appealing for anyone who has been targeted by hate crime to come forward. In September, Police Scotland provided a progress report to the Scottish Parliament’s Policing Performance Committee on its continued efforts to implement Police Scotland’s Hate Crime Improvement Plan. The report stated, “Our inability to implement the new Hate Crime and Public Order Act, and ensure our duties with respect to providing data to Scottish government, will have significant public confidence impacts, particularly as the Act is extremely contentious in parts of society.” On October 17, the Scottish Parliament published its 2022 Universal Periodic Review, in which it reiterated its commitment to “to tackle all forms of hatred and prejudice,” including those based on religion, and “encourage[d] anyone who has experienced or witnessed a hate crime or incident to report it directly to the police or by using a third-party reporting center.”
During the year, the National Secular Society (NSS) conducted an online campaign encouraging citizens to lobby the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly to repeal the region’s blasphemy laws, stating such laws were “illiberal, anachronistic, and incompatible with the fundamental human rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief.” According to sources, all major political parties in Northern Ireland supported repeal except for the Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland’s second largest political party.
As of year’s end, the UK Parliament had not adopted a working definition of “Islamophobia.” In June, the government dismissed Imam Qari Asim, the deputy chair of the government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group, from his independent advisory role due to controversial statements he made regarding a film about the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter, Aisha. The government had appointed him as an advisor in 2019 to propose a new working definition after the government rejected the then proposed working definition. That definition stated, “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.” At the time, the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council said the proposed definition was “too broad… and could be used to challenge legitimate free speech.” The government and Muslim groups established the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group in 2012 to develop and implement proposals to address anti-Muslim sentiment in the country, although government sources said the group had never met. The government had not appointed a replacement for Asim by year’s end.
After a two-year consultation, the University of Aberdeen decided in October to adopt the JDA rather than the IHRA’s non-legally binding Working Definition of Antisemitism. The university’s Race Definitions Task and Finish Group originally recommended the adoption of the IHRA definition but changed its stance after the university’s senate and faculty raised academic freedom concerns. According to the Jewish Chronicle, those opposed to IHRA’s definition said it encouraged a stifling of free expression by conflating criticism of the state of Israel with antisemitism. The Race Definitions Task and Finish Group said the JDA offered “a fairer and clearer definition and set of guidelines.” In its guidelines, the JDA provides for “evidence-based criticism of Israel as a state.” The NGO Campaign Against Antisemitism accused the university of taking a “scandalous position” by not adopting the IHRA definition.
Sources said the Green Party of England and Wales upheld its 2021 decision to adopt both the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism and the JDA, despite ongoing criticism from the Board of Deputies of British Jews that the JDA and the IHRA definitions of antisemitism were contradictory.
In May, the NGO Humanist Society Scotland stated compulsory religious observance in Scottish schools was a breach of students’ right to “freedom of belief.” Citing a 2016 United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child report that addressed Scotland, the organization stated children should have the right to opt out of compulsory worship. The group stated that on May 24, then-Scottish Deputy First Minister John Swinney “said he wanted to be ‘bold’ on children’s’ rights” but that he had “continually kicked the can down the path on stopping compulsory religious worship in schools” during his time in government.
The pastoral needs of prisoners continued to be addressed, in part, through chaplains paid for by the UK 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 number of inmates in the prison and their religious composition. Prison service regulations stated, “Chaplaincy provision must reflect the faith denomination requirements of the prison.”
There were approximately 257 regular chaplains in the armed forces, 256 of whom were Christian. There were 111 reserve chaplains serving in the military, 108 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 service personnel.
Under the Places of Worship Scheme, which applied to England, Scotland, and Wales, Conservative MP and then Security Minister Damian Hinds announced on May 19 that mosques and Muslim schools were given access to £24.5 million ($29.5 million) for security measures to protect their places of worship and schools. In addition, the government made available £3.5 million ($4.2 million) to other religious communities through its Places of Worship Fund, compared with £1.7 million ($2 million) in 2021 and £1.6 million ($1.9 million) in 2020. Applications were open to all places of worship and associated religious group-run community centers that believed themselves vulnerable to hate crime. As part of this increased package, the government introduced a new, separate, program for Muslim schools to provide additional protection.
The Places of Worship Scheme was open to all religious groups apart from the Jewish community, which received £14 million ($17 million) from a separate government grant administered by CST, compared with £13.5 million ($16.3 million) in 2021. The grant funded commercial security guards at Jewish community buildings across the country, with priority placed on schools. The grant to CST did not apply in Northern Ireland.
The Christian charitable organization Care NI continued to campaign for the Northern Ireland government to introduce the Places of Worship Scheme there, where it did not currently apply.
In January, the government announced an extension to March 2025 of funding available for the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme (LPW). The LPW, run by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport, focused on preserving cultural heritage, provided value added tax relief on repairs to worship structures, turret clocks, pews, bells, and pipe organs, in addition to associated professional fees. All faiths and areas of the country were eligible for the plan.
In April, the High Court overturned a government decision to locate the planned Holocaust Memorial and Learning Center in Victoria Tower Gardens, a Grade-II-listed royal park adjacent to Parliament. Grade-II indicates a property of “more than special interest.” The Westminster Council, the local authority, refused planning permission in 2019. In 2021, Conservative MP and then Housing Minister Chris Pincher overturned the council’s decision following a public inquiry. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and members of the public objected to the planned site for the £100 million ($120.4 million) project. The London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust described the memorial as “the right idea in the wrong place,” and argued that the process used to approve permission was “flawed.” In the High Court ruling, Justice Justine Thornton wrote, “All parties before the Court support the principle of a compelling memorial to the victims of the Holocaust and all those persecuted by the Nazis….” She said she based her decision in part on a 1990 Act that “imposes an enduring statutory obligation to maintain Victoria Tower Gardens as a public garden” and refused the government permission to appeal her judgement. Leaders from the country’s Jewish community expressed disappointment, arguing the memorial was needed to continue to educate people about the Holocaust and that the age of Holocaust survivors meant time was short to build one in their lifetimes. The government stated it remained committed to building the memorial and learning center.
According to 2019 data, the latest available, 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. Church of England schools were the most common type among primary schools (26 percent); Catholic schools were the most common at the 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 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.
On November 1, MPs debated RE in “modern Britain.” The parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall included widespread expressions of support for a national plan for RE and improved teacher training on the subject, although it did not enact a plan by year’s end. During the debate, Fiona Bruce, Conservative MP and the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, stated, “It is important that today’s generation, who will grow up to be tomorrow’s citizens and leaders, should have a knowledge-based understanding of religion and religious beliefs. It is important that that is taught in schools because… [school] is often the only place in today’s increasingly secular society where it will be heard by young people.” Humanists UK issued a statement saying, “When taught well, in a curriculum inclusive of nonreligious worldviews, RE is a vital tool for promoting mutual understanding and challenging prejudice in modern Britain. However, without a coherent national framework for RE, a narrowly focused RE often on offer can be worse than no RE at all.” In response to the debate, Shadow Education Minister and Labour Party MP Stephen Morgan said a Labour government would introduce a national plan for RE. He said that “an education in religion and worldviews is an important part of the school curriculum” and criticized the government’s approach, noting an RE Policy Unit report released earlier in the year indicated that 25 percent of RE lessons were taught by teachers with limited qualification in the subject, which the unit said was “more than three times the proportion for history [teachers].” The debate followed the 2019 introduction of the course Religions and Worldviews, which replaced RE, into the national curriculum in Wales.
Bermuda’s Human Rights Commission reported that in 2021 and 2022, 6 percent of formal public submissions (intakes) were religion-based complaints of discrimination or requests for guidance under the Human Rights Act 1981. The commission reported it resolved or continued to consider the intakes received during the year, and that none were referred for investigation.
On October 24, the Commercial Court at Glasgow Sheriff Court found the organization Scottish Events Campus Limited (SEC) had discriminated on religious grounds against what the court called a “contentious American evangelist” from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) by cancelling an event scheduled in Glasgow in 2020 “because of: (a) the religious or philosophical beliefs of [BGEA] and [the speaker], as viewed by the defender [i.e., defendant]; and (b) the reaction by others to the religious or philosophical beliefs professed by [BGEA] and/or [the speaker].” SEC management at the time cited “adverse publicity” in refusing to host the event, following local protests. The judge found SEC had breached the Equality Act by not honoring the booking. The court awarded BGEA £100,000 ($120,000) in damages.
On November 29, Humanists UK released a statement in the wake of the government publishing the results of the 2021 census showing that 37 percent of the population in England and Wales stated they had “no religion.” The NGO said the result likely underestimated the number of nonreligious people because the census question (“What is your religion?”) was optional and was also a leading one. Humanists UK chief executive Andrew Copson said laws such as those establishing a state church and mandating prayer in schools had “failed to keep up with the pace of change, and as a result, the enormous nonreligious population in England and Wales face everyday discrimination – from getting local school places to receiving appropriate emotional support in hospitals. This census result should be a wake-up call which prompts fresh reconsiderations of the role of religion in society.”
The 2022 census in Scotland contained the question, “What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?” The NGO Humanist Society Scotland urged people who did not believe in or practice a religion to select “No religion.”
Humanists UK stated nonreligious belief marriages, which are legally recognized in Scotland and Northern Ireland, should also receive legal recognition in England and Wales. In October, the All-Party Parliamentary Humanists Group (APPHG) published its second report on humanist marriages. The APPHG cochair, Baroness Joan Bakewell, said the report found the lack of legal recognition for humanist marriages constituted discrimination. At the report’s public release, Hannah McKerchar, a humanist celebrant (i.e., a person who officiates at humanist ceremonies), spoke of the difficulties couples faced in securing a civil ceremony (in addition to a non-legally binding humanist ceremony) to make their marriage legally recognized. Humanists UK chief executive Copson called on the government to give humanist marriages legal recognition and stated the change would not require an act of Parliament but could be done using secondary legislation.
Humanists UK continued to say the state should increase the availability of nonpastoral support in prisons and hospitals.
Media outlets reported that in May, the Department for Education suspended engagement with the NUS over long-running allegations of antisemitism within the organization, despite the NUS’s pledge to work with the Union of Jewish Students in an internal investigation. A government statement advised that as part of the disengagement, the NUS would not receive government funding. Then-Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said, “Jewish students need to have confidence that this is a body that represents them, and we need to be sure that the student bodies that we engage with are speaking fairly for all students, which is why we are disengaging with the NUS until the issues have been addressed.” Then Higher Education Minister Michelle Donelan said the NUS needed to take “decisive and effective action in response to these repeated allegations of antisemitic behavior.” In May, the NUS, in consultation with the Union of Jewish Students, instructed King’s Counsel (barrister) Rebecca Tuck to conduct an internal investigation into allegations of antisemitism. She had not published her findings as of year’s end. Media outlets reported that in October, NUS dismissed its president, Shaima Dallali, over allegations of antisemitism.
In January, in an interview with the Sunday Times, Conservative MP and former government minister in the Department for Transport Nusrat Ghani stated the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2020 had removed her from her ministerial position for being Muslim, reigniting accusations that the Conservative Party was institutionally anti-Muslim. Ghani was the first Muslim woman to speak from the House of Commons dispatch box, which is where government ministers deliver their addresses to Parliament. Ghani stated that a member of the Johnson administration raised her “Muslimness” as an issue at a meeting at the Prime Minister’s residence and said her “Muslim woman minister status was making colleagues feel uncomfortable.” The Sunday Times reported Conservative MP and then-Chief Whip Mark Spencer subsequently identified himself as the person to whom Ghani referred and that he denied the allegation. Responding to Ghani’s statements, the Muslim Council of Britain said it was “now time” for the EHRC to investigate the party and determine if any breaches had taken place. In January, Shockat Patel, a board member of MEND, told the Guardian, “Islamophobia is still alive and kicking within the Tory [Conservative] Party.”
In November, Labour Party sources told the Guardian that former party leader Jeremy Corbyn, subsequently an independent MP, would never again be allowed to stand as a Labour Party candidate in elections, even if he were to apologize for saying in 2020 that the EHRC’s findings into antisemitism in the party under his leadership were “dramatically overstated for political reasons.” After Corbyn refused to apologize at the time, party leaders suspended him from the Parliamentary Labour Party.
In November, the communications regulator Ofcom found the BBC had made a “serious editorial misjudgment” in its online and on-air coverage of a November 2021 antisemitic incident in London. At the time, the BBC reported that men spat at and hurled antisemitic abuse at a bus of Jewish youths who were celebrating Hanukkah. The BBC said the Jewish youths had incited the incident by uttering anti-Muslim slurs that were captured on an audio recording. The BBC subsequently learned the phrase the Jewish individuals uttered in Hebrew was actually, “Call someone; it is urgent.” Ofcom stated the BBC failed to promptly report that the initial interpretation of the recording was disputed and did not update the online article for almost eight weeks. Ofcom stated, “During this time the BBC was aware that the article’s content was causing significant distress and anxiety to the victims of the attack and the wider Jewish community. This, in our opinion, was a significant failure to observe its editorial guidelines to report news with due accuracy and due impartiality.” The BBC apologized for not acting sooner to highlight that the recording’s contents were contested.
On January 4, in an open letter, Rabbi YY Rubinstein, a BBC contributor for more than three decades, resigned, calling the broadcaster’s handling of the 2021 Hanukkah incident “simply inexcusable” and saying, “I simply don’t see how I or in fact any Jew who has any pride in that name can be associated with the corporation anymore.” A BBC spokesperson expressed regret at Rabbi Rubenstein’s decision and said, “Antisemitism is abhorrent and we [the BBC] strive to serve the Jewish community, and all communities across the UK, fairly.”
In February, during an online forum with students organized by the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, a student asked Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon for her view on the fact that the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) governing partner, the Scottish Green Party, had not backed adoption of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism. Sturgeon stated, “All ministers in my government, without exception, are expected to comply” with the IHRA definition. In April, more than 200 members of Scotland’s Jewish community sent the First Minister a letter expressing further concern with the Scottish Green Party’s stance. A spokesperson for the Scottish government said, “All ministers in the Scottish government, including those from the Green Party, sign up and adhere to the IHRA definition of antisemitism.”
In January, leaders of multiple faith and belief communities and political leaders from across the country commemorated International Holocaust Memorial Day in a ceremony. King Charles III, then Prince of Wales, stated that the “strength shown by the survivors of the Holocaust, and of more recent genocides, is as courageous as it is inspiring.”
In December, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer joined MPs in the House of Commons to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the first public announcement by the British government that the Nazis were committing the mass murder of Europe’s Jewish population. The chamber marked the anniversary with a moment of silence led by Speaker of the House of Commons Lindsay Hoyle. Seven Holocaust survivors and representatives of the country’s Jewish community also attended.
On July 5 and 6, the national government hosted the International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Then-Foreign Secretary and Conservative MP Liz Truss said in a speech, “The freedom to believe, to pray and commit acts of worship, or indeed not to believe is a fundamental human freedom and has been one since the dawn of time…. Societies that allow their people to choose what they believe are better, stronger, and ultimately more successful.” The conference brought together representatives from governments, Parliament, religious and belief groups, and civil society. Representatives of national governments at the conference cosigned an overarching statement on the conference itself and thematic statements covering freedom of religion or belief issues.
Conservative MP Bruce, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, also served as vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Freedom of Religion or Belief. Throughout the year, she attended domestic and international events and posted to social media in support of religious freedom and belief. On November 23, for example, she posted on Twitter, “No one should be targeted for what they believe.”