B. Overview of reported concerns
26. Almost all of the Special Rapporteur’s interlocutors agreed that there was a very satisfactory amount of freedom of religion or belief in the United Kingdom. Many of them stated that the situation of their respective communities was far better than in those countries where they had emigrated from. There were some common concerns among members of all religions or non-religious beliefs, while others were specific to a particular community of people. The interlocutors raised the following issues.
27. Members of various Christian denominations (Church of England, Church of Ireland, Church of Scotland, Methodist, Presbyterian, Protestant, Roman Catholic, etc.) reported discrimination and violence related to sectarianism, not only in Northern Ireland but also in the rest of the United Kingdom. Furthermore, Christian Students’ Unions at several universities were reported to face pressures with regard to their adherence to university equal opportunities policies. In general, the Government’s Sexual Orientations Regulations were perceived by some Christians as hampering the work of Christian adoption agencies and establishing a hierarchy of rights with religion having a rather low priority. Another example of this trend was a court judgement which ruled that an employee’s freedom to manifest his religious beliefs was not infringed by his dismissal for refusal to agree to work on Sunday. On the other hand, the particular role and privileges of the Church of England were criticized by some Christians as no longer reflecting the religious demography of the country and the rising proportion of other Christian denominations.
28. The Special Rapporteur’s Muslim interlocutors criticized the application of counterterrorism legislation and the adverse influence on the situation of British Muslims. They also emphasized that public statements by politicians may have an impact on the society since the discussion of draft bills, even when not adopted finally, affect the public debate and perception. Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur’s interlocutors criticized the inflammatory tone of many media reports on issues regarding Muslims, especially with regard to the wearing of headscarves. The Special Rapporteur was also informed about a survey which showed that about 80 per cent of Muslim respondents have somehow experienced discrimination because they were Muslim, while in 1999 only 35 per cent of respondents reported such discrimination. Problem areas for Muslims appear to be employment, education, immigration policies and religious profiling as well as the provision of goods, services and facilities. Many Muslim interlocutors emphasized that since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 they felt extremely vulnerable, not only because of an adverse public opinion against them as a community but also because of counter-terrorism measures, which were mainly perceived to target so-called Islamic terrorism.
29. Hindu representatives reported their concerns that languages of other religions have been included in the British curriculum while the Hindu languages (Hindi and Sanskrit) had been ignored. Furthermore they complained that in contrast to other religious communities the Hindu religion was not represented in the House of Lords. In order to safeguard the minority religious and other rights they claim proportional representation by reservation of seats in Parliament for all minorities.
30. The Special Rapporteur spoke with Sikhs’ representatives who voiced their concerns about an increase in attacks on Sikhs and Sikh properties following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 and 7 July 2005. Furthermore, wearing the turban and carrying a kirpan has been treated as a problem on health and safety grounds by some employers and organizations. Sikhs also claim to be underrepresented in the Houses of Parliament and that there has been little progress to increase the number and profile of public appointments for Sikhs. They further criticized the selection and appointment of the King or Queen, who has to be a Protestant Christian and takes an oath to “maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law”. While the Government provides State funding for Christian schools, Sikhs were concerned that there has been little funding for schools to be operated by other religious groups.
31. The Special Rapporteur also met with Jews who shared their concerns about the increasing number of anti-Semitic incidents, including attacks potentially causing loss of life or grievous bodily harm, assaults, threats and damage of Jewish property. A total number of 594 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in 2006, which represents a 31 per cent rise compared to the previous year. The Special Rapporteur’s interlocutors stressed that developments in the Middle East had a direct impact on the situation of their community since the peaks in recorded anti-Semitic incidents in the United Kingdom coincide with international events such as the war in Lebanon. They also reported a number of positive initiatives with regional and local police teams concerning incident reporting, training and community relations.
32. Buddhists primarily were worried about the situation of Buddhists living abroad. Furthermore, difficulties in getting sufficient visas for Buddhist monks to live and teach in the United Kingdom were reported.
33. Baha’i members were concerned about the situation of foreign Baha’i asylum-seekers whose claims were refused in the initial decisions of the Border and Immigration Agency based on country of origin information and human rights reports which were no longer up-to-date.
34. Representatives of the Church of Scientology submitted that the Government discriminates against the Church of Scientology in refusing to recognize it as a religion. Referring to the Charity Commission’s determination in 1999 that the Church of Scientology should not be registered as a charity, they also voiced their concerns regarding the development of new criteria to define religion and public benefit under the Charities Act 2006.
35. Atheists, secularists and humanists made the criticism that in practice there are institutional and legal examples of discrimination against non-religious believers. They referred to the establishment of the Church of England and related privileges, e.g. the fact that Anglican archbishops and senior diocesan bishops of the Church of England are entitled to a total number of 26 seats in the House of Lords. These privileges reportedly encourage the “levelling up” of the influence of other religious groups by analogy. Atheistic and non-theistic believers also complained that local and national government mechanisms that are set up to consult religious groups do not include representatives of non-religious beliefs but empowers self-styled “community leaders”. Furthermore, while humanist weddings are legal in Scotland since June 2005, marriages conducted by humanist celebrants are not recognized in the law of England and Wales.