8. Some major world religions and belief systems 12
9. Appendix 1 - Frequently asked questions 22
Appendix 2 - Recent U.K. case law covering 31
Faith, religion & belief
We live in a society with an ever widening and diverse mix of religions and beliefs, which organisations need to, take into account when developing both services to the public and employment policies. Even within established religions there are various branches and regional and sectional variants with different traditions of interpretation, rituals and practices, moral guidelines and laws. There are also levels of personal compliance ranging from nominal to strict observance. Additionally, many people hold strong views about not having personal religious belief.
It is critically important to raise awareness amongst council staff of the need to take religion or belief into account when dealing with service users and colleagues, and this guidance document should aid all employees in understanding the importance of religious identity or belief and in appreciating how this has the potential to interact with and impact on delivery of services. There is a need to be very aware of religious stereotyping and to be mindful that there can be individual differences within groups. Finally this guide is aimed at understanding and respecting that difference and ensuring that that in our employment and service delivery practices that difference does not translate into disadvantage for anyone.
1. Legal Framework 1.1 Legal protection on religious grounds in the UK
Over recent years in the UK, levels of awareness of different religions and beliefs have grown – and, in the main, equitable treatment of individuals and inter-faith relations have improved. But, in spite of this, discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, religious intolerance and prejudice still exist in certain areas.
Until December 2003, legal protection against discrimination on grounds of religion or belief was confined to those from particular faiths who were covered by virtue of their ethnicity, as in the case of Sikhism and Judaism. A certain degree of protection was afforded to other religious and nonreligious communities by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as given effect by the Human Rights Act 1998, but this was very limited.
1.2 Human rights and religion or belief
According to Article 9 (Freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as given effect by the Human Rights Act 1998, a person is free to hold a broad range of views, beliefs and thoughts, and to follow a religious faith. The right to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be limited in specified circumstances.
Article 9 falls within the group of ECHR rights known as ‘qualified rights’. These are rights that require a balance between the rights of the individual and the needs of the wider community or state interest.
Interference with Article 9 is allowed if there is a clear legal basis for the interference with the qualified right, i.e. if the interference has a legitimate aim as necessary in a democratic society. This means that the action or interference must be in response to “a pressing social need” and must be no greater than that necessary to address the social need. Thus the principle of proportionality applies such that any interference must be proportionate to the aim being pursued.
Legitimate aims may be in aid of:
the protection of public order, health or morals
the protection of the rights and freedom of others.
For example, possible areas for challenge could include:
access to religious leaders as part of the care of terminally ill or dying patients
anesthesia and Jehovah’s Witnesses
examination of members of the opposite sex
facilities for worship or culturally appropriate food
female genital mutilation
It should be noted that recent case law makes it quite clear that one person’s human rights cannot be used to supplant those of another.
1.3 The European Council Directive of 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation came into force in the UK in December 2003 through the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations. These regulations make it unlawful to discriminate against people on the grounds of their religion or belief. The regulations apply to vocational training and all aspects of employment including recruitment, terms and conditions, promotions, transfers, dismissals and training.
Since 2003, two more pieces of legislation have been introduced, as outlined below:
1.4 Part 2 of the Equality Act 2006
(Discrimination on the Grounds of Religion or Belief) came into force on 30 April 2007. The Act defines ‘religion’ as “any religion”, and ‘belief’ as “any religion or religious or philosophical belief” as opposed to “any religion, religious belief or similar philosophical belief” as defined in the original Act. Reference to ‘religion’ or ‘belief’ in this context also refers to lack of religion or lack of belief.
Part 2 also makes it unlawful to discriminate in the area of goods, facilities and services on the grounds of religion or belief. The exercise of any public function by a public authority must be free from discrimination on grounds of religion or belief. This includes the provision of goods, facilities and services by a person exercising a public function.
1.5 The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 - came into force on 1 October 2007 as an amendment to the Public Order Act 1986. It gives protection to people against hatred because of their religious beliefs or lack of religious beliefs, and prohibits the stirring up of hatred against persons on racial or religious grounds.
Whilst the legislation aims to protect people against discrimination on the grounds of their religion or belief (or lack of religion or belief), it should be remembered that, conversely, the law does not entitle people to apply such beliefs in a way which impinges upon other people – even if they claim that their religion or belief requires them to act in this way. The legislation is not intended to hinder people in the expression of their own religion or belief, but everyone has the right to be treated with respect whatever their views or beliefs and nobody should try to harass others because they do not agree with certain religious convictions.
1.6 Definition of Religion and belief in law
Religion or belief is defined as being any religion, religious belief or similar philosophical belief. This does not include any philosophical or political belief unless it is similar to religious belief. It will be for employment tribunals and courts to decide whether particular circumstances are covered by the regulations.
A number of factors apply when deciding what is a 'religion or belief'. For example collective worship, a clear belief system or a profound belief affecting a way of life or view of the world. The definition is deliberately not precise and some interesting cases should eventually clarify what does and does not count as a religion or similar belief. Vegans may or may not be covered. Political beliefs are expressly excluded. A theoretical dilemma could be presented by black magic which involves collective worship, a clear belief system, a profound belief affecting a way of life or view of the world. There is no guidance as to whether this constitutes a belief system which was intended to be similar to a religious belief.
We should be aware that the regulations on religion or belief extend beyond the more well known religions and faiths to include beliefs such as Paganism, Humanism, Atheism, Shamanism, Scientology etc. The regulations also cover those without religious or similar beliefs. With the exception of atheism, most religions have in common the teaching of a particular way of life in relation to power(s) or being(s) that are taken to remain outside the laws of nature – even where they exist within nature, as some religions hold. ‘Way of life’ includes the teaching of what is considered the right attitude towards life and human relationships. Often such attitudes are expressed in rites, social and cultural customs and liturgical traditions, which can therefore play an important role in the life of the individual believer.
1.7 What the Law Covers
The forms of discrimination that are unlawful under the regulations are:
Direct discrimination: treating workers or job applicants less favourably than others because they follow, or are perceived to follow, a particular religion or belief. The regulations also extend to cover discrimination based on a person’s association with someone of a particular religion or belief.
Indirect discrimination: applying policies or practices that – although applied to all employees – could disadvantage people of a particular religion or belief. These policies or practices are unlawful unless the organisation can justify implementing them because of a legitimate business need.
Harassment: behaviour that is offensive, frightening or in any way distressing related to a person’s religion or belief. It also includes comments or behaviour aimed at the religion or belief of those with whom the person associates. Harassment can include violation of a person’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive environment. It can also include preventing someone from declaring their religion or their lack of belief in religion. Victimisation: treating someone less favorably because they have made or intend to make a complaint or allegation, or have given or intend to give evidence in relation to a complaint of discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. Instructing or causing discrimination: instructing or otherwise causing another person to discriminate in a way that is unlawful.
for example in the Islamic faith a halal butcher must be Muslim.
A GOR must be reassessed on each occasion a post becomes vacant
to ensure that it can still be validly claimed. Circumstances may have
changed, rendering the GOR inapplicable.
A GOR cannot be used to establish or maintain a balance or quota of
employees of a particular religion or belief.
GORs are always open to challenge by an individual. The burden of proof lies with the employer to establish the validity of a GOR by providing evidence to substantiate a claim.
Only an Employment Tribunal or a higher court can give an
authoritative ruling as to whether or not a GOR is valid.
The following legislation remains extant:
• School Standards and Framework Act 1998
• The Amendments to the School Standards and Framework Act 2003
• The Education (Scotland) Act 1980.
2. Valuing religious diversity A diverse workforce with staff from a range of religions or beliefs should be highly valued for the personal knowledge, expertise and sensitivity they can bring to the planning and delivery of services to our multi-cultural and multi-faith society. Staff who are respected and recognised for the contribution they make will be highly motivated, conscientious and more likely to stay within the organisation. An organisation that has robust and transparent equality policies, with appropriate grievance and disciplinary procedures for those who breach the policies, will be more likely to retain a confident workforce who is secure in the knowledge that they will not suffer discrimination without challenge or redress. All staff should be made aware of these policies, and of the consequences of not following them, as soon as possible after they start work. The message should be reinforced throughout the working life cycle, for example at yearly appraisals and on training days/seminars. All staff should be made aware of what constitutes harassment and of the penalties, i.e. that they could be held personally liable and may have to pay compensation in addition to anything the organisation may have to pay if the issue goes to tribunal or other legal action.
All staff should also be made aware of the procedures to be followed if they feel that they have been discriminated against, harassed or victimised. They should feel confident that their complaint will be dealt with in confidence, treated seriously and, importantly, acted upon.
Monitoring and Recordkeeping Gathering information on staff
3. Data collection and Monitoring The Council had for many years monitored the three strands of race, disability and gender. More recently three other strands have been added i.e. age, religion /faith and sexual orientation. Monitoring relies on a system of self classification and currently the monitoring categories used to monitor religion and belief include: Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Other
Data based on the 1991 census indicated the following distribution of religious minorities in Luton when compared to the national picture at that time.
Religion not stated
2001 – Census and 2006 Estimates of Population by Ethnicity in Luton
There is no legislative requirement at present for organisations to conduct equality impact assessments specifically on their policies and practices in relation to religion or belief. However, it is agreed best practice to equality impact assess on the grounds of religion or belief, and it makes sound business sense to incorporate this into a broader equality impact assessment which includes all the equality strands as part of a single equality scheme approach.
Not to do so may result in a failure to identify the need to incorporate specific actions relating to religion or belief when introducing changes in processes and/or clinical practice or procedures, which could have unexpected negative impacts on planned outcomes and take-up elsewhere in the organisation. Such impact could for example include some staff being unable to attend development weekends, some women feeling unable to use or access a particular service that is predominantly staffed by men, or even Islamic men not taking up services provided on Friday afternoons.
Gathering information, consulting and assessing the results as described can give a good indication of how policies are affecting and are likely to affect the main beneficiaries for whom their different religions or beliefs may be significant. Therefore, when developing new policies it is important to consider how to include religion or belief (where it is practical to do so) in existing equality impact assessment procedures used for the other equality strands.
5. Action planning
Issues regarding religion or belief that need to be addressed can be integrated into existing action plans for single equality schemes. Objectives, outcomes and timescales should be clearly indicated to make it easier to track progress. Worksheets 1 and 2 in Section Five contain an action planning framework and a sample action plan.
Although there is no legislative requirement as yet to monitor on the basis of religion or belief, it is considered good practice for the Council when monitoring existing equality scheme action plans to also monitor for impact on religion or belief. Existing auditing processes, such as disciplinary and grievance management policies for staff can be used to monitor key religion or belief issues in the workforce. Similarly, mechanisms set up for monitoring actions on race, disability and gender can also be used or modified for religion or belief.
It is good practice for all departments to collect information on the make-up of staff from different religions or beliefs. This enables the organisation to monitor and equality impact assess policies to make sure that they are working, and to ensure that recruitment and training policies are reflecting the make-up of the local community and the workforce. Analysis of harassment and disciplinary and grievance records can identify whether staff from a particular religion or belief are being affected disproportionately, and can measure usage of the procedures. The information can also be used to monitor whether there are disproportionate numbers of staff from specific religions or beliefs leaving the organization; if so, steps can be taken to understand why, ensuring that where this is due to discriminatory practices or barriers the necessary steps are taken to remedy the situation. Information on the religion or belief of staff can also help managers and team leaders to plan for when staff may need time off for major religious festivals or other religious purposes.
As with all equality monitoring, staff should be made aware of why the information is required and how it will be used. Staff should also be assured of confidentiality and anonymity, and told that they are not obliged to give such information if they do not wish to do so. Explaining that the information will be used to benefit those from different religions or beliefs may help to reassure staff and encourage them to participate. Staff surveys and network groups can also provide vital information as to whether there are issues in respect of religion or belief that need to be addressed. The Data Protection Act 1998 covers information gathered on religion or belief. Details can be found at
Employment issues and service delivery issues go hand in hand, because they impact on each other. A workforce that is respected and valued will in turn be more likely to show respect and understanding in the provision of services to the public. The Council could not operate without the dedication, knowledge and skills of its workforce and 70% of our financial resources are invested in areas such as salaries, recruitment, workplace development, training and retention
Employment policies can often impact on religious and other beliefs and practices, and therefore policies should be reviewed to take account of this. Flexibilities around time allowed and facilities provided for prayers and ablutions are also important, as are religious observances such as observance of the Sabbath in Judaism, and sensitivity and understanding during fasting. It is, of course, also important to ensure that these flexibilities are not at the expense or disadvantage of those with different or no religious beliefs. Prior communication and discussion is vital to continued good relations.
Other issues include an awareness of different religions or beliefs when arranging meetings – for instance, not meeting in a place where alcohol is served, or not holding Friday-afternoon events or Saturday away days, which persons from certain religious communities may not be able to attend. In the same way, dietary considerations should be taken into account when arranging catering, and attendees should always be asked for their requirements or preferences.
The issues relating to various stages in recruitment of staff, dress codes, time off for religious festivals, prayer facilities sexual orientation, family bereavement, dietary needs ,fasting are covered in detail in the councils Recruitment and Compassionate Leave policies and you are advised to refer to these and other HR policies for more detailed information.
Further guidance may also be sought from the council’s Equalities Unit based at the Town Hall.
At the same time, the views or religious or non-religious convictions of service users should not be allowed to adversely affect staff carrying out their duties. An example of this would be a user refusing to be assisted by someone from a different religious persuasion, or by a lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans-person.
7. Burials and Cremation practices
Luton borough council provides a facility for cremations and burials to take place at weekends at extra charge. This arrangement was the result of demands particularly from the Muslim community who have strict time requirements in terms of burial.
8. Some major world religions and belief systems
(This is meant to be an illustrative and not an exhaustive list)
N.B In general, while practices may vary within specific branches of each religion, the following is broadly adhered to by the main world religions listed below. The council each year produces a religious festivals and local events calendar which can be downloaded from the council’s website (www.lbc.gov.uk)
8.1 Baha’i Faith
Baha’is should say one of three obligatory prayers during the day. Prayers
need to be recited in a quiet place where the Baha’i will wish to face the
Qiblih (the Shrine of Baha’u’llah, near Akka, Israel), which is in a south easterly direction from the UK. Two of the prayers require movement and prostrations.
Baha’is are required to wash their hands and face before prayers but can
use a normal washroom facility for this purpose.
Festivals: Baha’i festivals take place from sunset to sunset and followers
may wish to leave work early in order to be home for sunset on the day prior to the festival date. Baha’is will wish to refrain from working on the
Key Festival dates.
The Baha’i Fast 2 March – 20 March
Baha’is refrain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset during this period. Baha’is working evening or night shifts will appreciate the opportunity to prepare food at sundown. There are
exemptions from fasting for sickness, pregnancy, travelling and strenuous physical work.
Naw-Ruz (Baha’i New Year) 21 March
Ridvan 21 April – 2 May
Ridvan is the most important of the Baha’i festivals and includes three holy days on which
Baha’is would wish to refrain from working. They are:
1st Day of Ridvan 21 April
9th Day of Ridvan 29 April
12th Day of Ridvan 2 May
Declaration of the Bab 23 May
Ascension of the Baha’u’llah 29 May
Martyrdom of the Bab 9 July
Birth of the Bab 20 October
Birth of Baha’u’llah 12 November
Food: As a matter of principal most Baha’is do not take alcohol. Otherwise
In addition there are a number of ‘holy days of obligation’ when Christians may wish to attend a church service and request a late start to the working day, or early finish in order that they can attend their local church. Many practicing Christians will wish to attend their Church on Sundays throughout the year.
Food: Some Christians avoid alcohol.
Clothing: Some Christian churches forbid the use of cosmetics and require
their female members to dress particularly modestly.
Bereavement: No special requirements beyond normal compassionate leave.A41
Festivals: Hinduism is a diverse religion and not all Hindus will celebrate the
Makar Sakranti 14 January
Maha Shiva Ratri February
Ganesh Chaturthi August/September
Dushera (aka Vijayadashmi) September/October
Karava Chauth October
Diwali Late October/Early November
New Year Late October/Early November
There are a number of occasions through the year when some Hindus fast.
Clothing: Hindu women will often wear a bindi which is a red spot worn on
the forehead and denotes that she is married. In addition, many
married Hindu women wear a necklace (mangal sutra) which is placed around their necks during the marriage ceremony and is in addition to a wedding ring. Decorative bindis in different colours are also sometimes worn by A few Orthodox Hindu men wear a small tuft of hair (shikha) similar to a ponytail but this is often hidden beneath the remaining hair. Some Orthodox Hindu men also wear a clay marking on their foreheads known as a tilak.
Food: Most Hindus are vegetarian and will not eat meat, fish or eggs. None
Bereavement: Following cremation, close relatives of the deceased will
observe a 13 day mourning period during which they will wish to remain at
home. The closest male relatives may take the ashes of the deceased to the
Ganges, in India. They may therefore request extended leave from work. Close male relatives of the deceased may shave their heads as a mark of respect.
42 EMPLOYMENT EQUALITY LEGISLATION 2003 (RELIGION OR BELIEF)
Observant Muslims are required to pray five times a day. Each prayer time
takes about 15 minutes and can take place anywhere clean and quiet.
Prayer times are:
At dawn (Fajr)
At mid-day (Zuhr) in winter sometime between 1200 – 1300hrs and in
Summer between 1300 – 1600hrs
Late Afternoon (Asr) in winter 1430 – 1530hrs
After Sunset (Maghrib)
Late Evening (Isha)
Friday mid-day prayers are particularly important to Muslims and may take a little longer than other prayer times. Friday prayers must be said in
congregation and may require Muslims to travel to the nearest mosque or
Before prayers, observant Muslims undertake a ritual act of purification. This involves the use of running water to wash hands, face, mouth, nose, arms up to the elbows and feet up to the ankles, although often the washing of
the feet will be performed symbolically.
Festivals: The dates of festivals are reliant on a sighting of the new moon
and will therefore vary from year to year. Whilst approximate dates will be
known well in advance, it is not always possible to give a definitive date until
much nearer to the time.
Ramadan, which takes place in the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar,
is a particularly significant time for Muslims. Fasting is required between dawn
and sunset. Most Muslims will attend work in the normal way but in the winter
they may wish to break fast with other Muslims at sunset. This could be seen
as a delayed lunch break. For those working evening or night shifts, the
opportunity to heat food at sunset and/or sunrise will be appreciated.
Eid Al-Fitr – three days to mark the end of Ramadan – most Muslims will only
seek annual leave for the first of the three days.
Eid al-Adha takes place two months and 10 days after Eid Al-Fitr and is a
three-day festival. Again, most Muslims will usually only seek leave for the
first of the three days.
All Muslims are required to make a pilgrimage to Mecca once in their lifetime.
Muslims may therefore seek one extended leave period in which to make
such a pilgrimage.
Clothing: Muslims are required to cover the body. Men may therefore be
unwilling to wear shorts. Women may wish to cover their whole body, except
their face, hands and feet.
Food: Muslims are forbidden to eat any food which is derived from the pig,
this includes lard which may be present in bread or even ice cream. In
addition they are forbidden to eat any food which is derived from a
carnivorous animal. Meat that may be consumed must be slaughtered by the
Halal method. Islam also forbids the consumption of alcohol which includes
its presence in dishes such as risotto or fruit salad.
Bereavement: Burial must take place as soon as possible following death
and may therefore occur at short notice.
1. Any form of gambling is forbidden under Islam.
2. Observant Muslims are required to wash following use of the toilet and
Muslims will carry a small container of water into the cubicle for this
purpose. By agreement with other staff and cleaners, these containers
could be kept in the cubicle.
3. Physical contact between the sexes is discouraged and some Muslims
may politely refuse to shake hands with the opposite sex. This should
not be viewed negatively.
Circumcision: In some religions (including Judaism and Islam) and for some non-religious individuals, it has been a tradition to circumcise male infants shortly after birth (usually at seven days old). In recent years, however, views have changed, and some Jewish and Muslim parents prefer to carry out the traditional ceremonies without the actual circumcision taking place. It should therefore be remembered that there could sometimes be different views on the same subject.
Jains are required to worship three times daily, before dawn, at sunset and at
night. Jains working evening or night shifts may wish to take time out to
worship or take their meals before sunset.
Festivals: Jain festivals are spiritual in nature.
Oli April and October
Eight days semi-fasting twice a year when some take one bland, tasteless meal during day time.
44 EMPLOYMENT EQUALITY LEGISLATION 2003 (RELIGION OR BELIEF)
Mahavira Jayanti April
Birth anniversary of Lord Mahavira
During this sacred period of fasting and forgiveness for eight days Jains fast, observe spiritual
rituals, meditate and live a pious life taking only boiled water during day time.
The last day of Paryushan when Jains ask for forgiveness and forgive one another.
Death anniversary of Lord Mahavira, includes a two-day fast and listening to the last message of
Food: Jains practice avoidance of harm to all life – self and others. They are,
therefore, strict vegetarians including the avoidance of eggs; some may take
milk products. Many also avoid root vegetables. Jains do not eat between
sunset and sunrise. Jains do not drink alcohol.
Bereavement: Cremation will take place as soon as practical after death
(usually three to five days). There is no specified mourning period and normal
compassionate leave arrangements will suffice.
8.7 Judaism (Jews)
Observant Jews are required to refrain from work on the Sabbath and
Festivals, except where life is at risk. This includes travelling (except on foot),
writing, carrying, switching on and off electricity, using a telephone and
transactions of a commercial nature (that is buying and selling).
Consideration should also be given to the signing of consent/agreement forms. For instance, an orthodox Jewish person would not wish to sign forms on a Sabbath or major festival.
The Sabbath and all other Festivals begin one hour before dusk and so practicing Jews need to be home by then. Sabbath begins one hour before dusk on Friday.
Passover March/April 2 sets of 2 days
Pentecost (Shavuoth) May/June 2 days
New Year Sept/Oct 2 days
Day of Atonement Sept/Oct 1 day fasting
Tabernacles (Sukkot) Sept/Oct 2 sets of 2 days APPENDIX 2 45
Clothing: Orthodox Jewish men keep their head covered at all times.
Orthodox Jewish women will wish to dress modestly and may not want to
wear trousers, short skirts or short sleeves; some may wish to keep their
heads covered by a scarf or beret.
Food: Jews are required to eat only kosher food (which has been treated
and prepared in a particular manner).
Jews believe death in this life will eventually lead to resurrection in a world to come.
The dead are buried as soon as possible. The body is washed to purify it, dressed in a plain linen shroud. The casket, a plain wooden coffin, remains closed after the body is dressed. The body is watched over from time of death till burial, as a sign of respect. The kaddish, a prayer in honor of the dead, is said.
Funerals must take place as soon as possible following the
death – the same day where possible – and therefore take place at short
notice. Following a death, the immediate family must stay at home and
mourn for seven days (Shiva).
There is an intense seven-day mourning period, called shiva, following the burial. Mourners traditionally rent their garments as a symbol of grief. Today, people often wear a black ribbon instead of tearing their clothes. Mourners also cover mirrors, sit on low stools, and avoid wearing leather. The full mourning period lasts a year, after which mourners observe the dead's yahrzeit, or yearly anniversary of the death.
There are similarities between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran
church. Martin Luther, the protestant reformer who founded the Lutheran
denomination, broke from the Roman Catholic Church, but kept the parts of
the faith that were scriptural (based on the Bible). Later reformers did
not do this, which is why there are more similarities than with other
Both Catholicism and the Lutheran church practice infant baptism and communion as sacraments. Roman Catholics also include 3 more that Lutherans reject. The latter also reject purgatory, praying to the saints, and praying to Mary as unscriptural.
Services are very similar in that they are both liturgical.
Lutheranism is based on scripture alone. Roman Catholism is based on
scripture + Papal decrees + Church history.
Lutheran churches are governed locally, not from a big church hierarchy.