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Department Seal 2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:
United Kingdom

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, September 5, 2000


Government policy provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The 1998 Human Rights Act, which is to enter into force in October 2000, incorporates the principle of religious freedom into law.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

Both government policy and the generally amicable relationship among religions in society contribute to the free practice of religion. However, centuries-old sectarian divisions--and instances of violence--are part of the troubles in Northern Ireland.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Government Policies on Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

Government policy provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The 1998 Human Rights Act, which is to enter into force in October 2000, provides for freedom of religion, including freedom to change one's religion or belief.

There are two established (that is state) churches, the Church of England (Anglican) and the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian). The Queen is the "Supreme Governor" of the Church of England and must always be a member of the Church and promise to uphold it. The Queen appoints Church of England officials on the advice of the Prime Minister and the Crown Appointments Commission (which includes lay and clergy representatives.) The Church of Scotland appoints its own office bearers, and its affairs are not subject to any civil authority. There are no established churches in Wales or Northern Ireland, but the Church in Wales, the Scottish Episcopal Church, and the Church of Ireland are members of the Anglican Communion.

Religious groups are not required to register with the Government. No church or religious organization--established or otherwise--receives direct funding from the State. Religious bodies are expected to finance their own activities through endowment, investments, and fund-raising. Since 1977 the Government has appropriated funds for the repair of historic church buildings, such as cathedrals, but such funding is not restricted to Church of England buildings. The Government also contributes 70 percent of the budget of the Redundant Churches Fund, established by the Church of England in 1969 to preserve "redundant" Church of England buildings that are of architectural or historic significance. In 1993 a similar body, the Historic Chapels Trust, was founded with the aid of a grant from the Department of National Heritage to preserve, repair, and maintain non-Anglican houses of worship, such as mosques, temples, or synagogues. No such bodies exist in Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland.

Most religious institutions are classified as charities and, as such, enjoy a wide range of tax benefits. (The advancement of religion is considered to be a charitable purpose.) In England and Wales, the Charity Commission reviews the application of each body applying for registration as a charity. Commissioners base their decisions on a substantial body of case law. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Inland Revenue performs this task. Charities are exempt from taxes on most types of income and capital gains, provided that the charity uses the income or gains for charitable purpose. They are also exempt from the value-added tax. Donors to charities also enjoy tax relief for their donations. Transfers to charities are exempt from the inheritance tax, capital gains tax, and stamp duty.

In November 1999, the Charity Commission rejected a Church of Scientology application for charitable status, concluding that Scientology is not a religion for the purposes of charity law.

Some "voluntary schools" provided by religious groups enjoy state support. While the majority of these schools are Anglican or Catholic, there are a small number of Methodist and Jewish schools. There are also privately funded schools with religious foundations, including a growing number of Muslim schools.

Religious Demography

There are no official statistics collected on religious beliefs or church membership, except in Northern Ireland. Although their methodologies differ greatly, the numbers collected by individual religious communities highlight patterns of adherence and belief.

About 65 percent of the population (estimated to total 58.5 million in 1996) would identify with some form of Christianity. About 45 percent of the population identify with Anglican churches, 10 percent with the Roman Catholic Church, 4 percent with Presbyterian churches, 2 percent with Methodist churches, and 4 percent with other Christian churches, but only about 8.7 percent attend a Christian church on a regular basis. Church attendance in Northern Ireland is estimated at 30 to 35 percent of the population. An additional 2 percent of the population are affiliated with non-Trinitarian churches, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Church of Christ, Christian Scientists, and Unitarians. A further 5 percent of the population are adherents to other faiths, including Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism.

About 28 percent of the population are nonreligious. About half of all parents choose to have their children baptized. A similar proportion of all weddings (41.3 percent) are conducted as religious ceremonies, but the number has decreased in recent years. The vast majority of funerals are religious, and recent surveys suggest that 63 to 70 percent of the population believe in God.

Between the Reformation and the mid-19th century, Britain was a predominantly Protestant country. The Jewish community dates from 1656, with the arrival of Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal, but it experienced much of its growth during the 1800's and 1900's, when Ashkenazic Jews arrived from Eastern Europe. Irish immigration during the 1800's fostered the resurgence of Roman Catholicism, and later immigration from British colonies (and now the Commonwealth) led to the establishment of thriving Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu communities. These latter communities tend to be concentrated around larger cities.

The conflict between nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland has been drawn along religious lines, but the avowed policy of the Government remains one of religious neutrality and tolerance (See Section II).

The Government makes an active effort to ensure that public servants are not discriminated against on the basis of religion and strives to accommodate religious practices by government employees whenever possible. For example, the Prison Service permits Muslim employees to take time off during their shifts to pray. It also provides prisoners with Jewish and Muslim chaplains. The military generally provides soldiers who are adherents of minority religions with chaplains of their faith.

Governmental Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The United Christian Broadcasters (UCB) radio station appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 1999 the existing ban on nationwide broadcast licenses for religious broadcasters. The Government filed a counter brief in February 2000; the UCB filed a response in April 2000. The Court is scheduled to hear the case in late 2000 or early 2001. Due to the limited broadcast spectrum, the 1990 Broadcasting Act precludes certain groups, including those "wholly or mainly of a religious nature," from obtaining the few available national licenses. Due to their limited number, digital radio multiplex licenses, provided for in the 1996 Broadcasting Act, also are unavailable to religious groups. Religious groups can and do compete successfully for the more numerous local and regional stations, and cable and satellite channels; they can advertise. The UCB now broadcasts by satellite without restriction.

The Church of Scientology asserts that it faces discrimination due to the failure of the Government to treat Scientology as a religion. In particular Scientology ministers are not regarded as ministers of religion under prison regulations, and thus they are not permitted to provide official pastoral care to prisoners; nor are they considered ministers of religion for the purpose of immigration relations. The Government bases its treatment of Scientology on a 1970 judgment by the Court of Appeal, which held that Scientology chapels did not qualify as places of worship under the Places of Worship Registration Act of 1855.

In November 1999, the Charity Commission, which acts independently of the Government and is accountable to the courts for its decisions, rejected a Church of Scientology application for charitable status, concluding that Scientology is not a religion for the purposes of charity law, as "the core practices of Scientology, being auditing and training, do not constitute worship." It also declared that "Public benefit arising from the practice of Scientology and/or the purposes of the Church of Scientology had not been established."

Religious education in publicly maintained schools is required by law throughout the country. According to the Education Reform Act of 1988, it forms part of the core curriculum for students in England and Wales (the requirements for Scotland were outlined in the Education Act of 1980.) The shape and content of religious instruction is decided on a local basis. Locally agreed syllabi uses are required to reflect the predominant place of Christianity in religious life, but they must be nondenominational and refrain from attempting to convert pupils. All parents have the right to withdraw a child from religious education, but the schools must approve this request.

In addition schools have to provide a daily act of collective worship. In practice this action is mainly Christian in character, reflecting Christianity's importance in the religious life of the nation. This requirement may be waived if a school's administration deems it inappropriate for some or all of the students. Under some circumstances, non-Christian worship may instead be allowed. Teachers' organizations have criticized school prayer and called for a government review of the practice.

Where a student body is characterized by a substantial population of religious minorities, schools may observe the religious festivals of other faiths. Schools also endeavor to accommodate religious requirements, such as providing halal meat for Muslim children.

In general membership in a given religious group does not confer a political or economic advantage on individual adherents. However, on the national level, the House of Lords provides an exception to this rule. The Anglican Archbishops of York and Canterbury; the Bishops of Durham, London, and Winchester; and 21 other bishops, in order of seniority, receive automatic membership in the House of Lords, whereas prominent clergy from other denominations or religions are not afforded this privilege. In January 2000, the Wakeham Report on the Reform of the House of Lords recommended that other Christian denominations and other faiths also should be represented in the House of Lords. The report recommended that there be 16 seats for the Church of England, 5 seats for other Christian denominations, and at least 5 seats for non-Christian faiths. House of Lords reform still is being debated vigorously, and no final decision has been made.

While it is not enforced and is essentially a legal anachronism, blasphemy against Anglican doctrine remains technically illegal. Several religious organizations, in association with the Commission for Racial Equality, are attempting to abolish the law or broaden its protection to include all faiths. Responding to a parliamentary question on removing blasphemy from the statute book, the Home Office stated in July 1998 that there were no current plans to change the law.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

Forced Religious Conversion of Minor U.S. Citizens There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section II. Societal Attitudes

Relations between the various religious communities are generally amicable.

While the troubles in Northern Ireland are the product of political, economic, and social factors, conflict between nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland is rooted in centuries-old sectarian divisions between the Protestant and Catholic communities.

The majority of citizens in Northern Ireland appear determined to diminish sectarian tensions and continue to support the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which aims to create a lasting settlement to the conflict in Northern Ireland and a society based on equality of opportunity and human rights.

Employment discrimination on religious grounds is proscribed specifically by law in Northern Ireland, although not in the rest of the country. Those who believe that their freedom of religion has been infringed have the right to appeal to the courts for relief. The 1998 Human Rights Act, which is to enter into force in 2000, prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion.

Government programs and continued economic growth in the region have resulted in a decrease in the overall unemployment rate (6.3 percent as of March 2000). Although there is some evidence that unemployment rates among Catholics remain higher than among Protestants, the often-quoted figure, based on 1991 data, that Catholic male unemployment is twice the rate of Protestant male unemployment, has not been updated reliably.

In August 1999, in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement, the Government appointed 20 members to the board of the Equality Commission, an amalgamation of the Northern Ireland Fair Employment Commission, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality, and the Disability Council. The Commission assumed its responsibilities in October 1999.

One of the Commission's mandates is to help enforce the Fair Employment and Treatment Order of 1998, which incorporates previous equality legislation and outlaws discrimination based on religion or political opinion in the workplace, and aids in access to goods, facilities, services, and premises. Under the order, all public sector employers and all private firms with more than 10 employees must report annually to the Equality Commission on the religious composition of their work forces and must review their employment practices at least once every 3 years.

In addition Section 75 of the 1998 Northern Ireland Act stipulates that all public authorities (for example, Northern Ireland Office government departments, district councils, and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, among others) must show due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity, including between persons of different religious beliefs. Each public authority must submit a plan to the Equality Commission outlining how it plans to promote equality within its organization. The Equality Commission is to review such plans every 5 years.

Unlike the Northern Ireland Office (comprising province-wide government departments and the Northern Ireland civil service) and district councils, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), Northern Ireland's police force, currently is not required to conform to Section 75. Although Catholics now comprise less than 8 percent of the police force, the implementation of the recommendations of the Patten Commission report on police reform, scheduled for late 2000, is expected to initiate measures intended to make the force more broadly accepted in Northern Ireland. These include the establishment of an independent recruitment agency and a recruitment policy mandating equal intake of qualified Catholics and non-Catholics. The Patten Commission projected that, following implementation of these reforms, Catholics, who comprise approximately 40 percent of the population, would make up 30 percent of the police force within 10 years. Reaching this goal in part depends on the Catholic community's encouragement of its members to apply for the police force.

The Northern Ireland Office reported 80 attacks against both Catholic and Protestant churches, schools, and meeting halls from January 1999 through mid-May 2000. Such sectarian violence often coincides with heightened tensions, especially in spring and summer, surrounding certain marches by the "Loyal Institutions" (the Royal Black Preceptory, Orange Order, and Apprentice Boys), whose membership is almost exclusively Protestant.

In April 2000, an interim report on religious discrimination commissioned by the Home Office claimed that the establishment of the Church of England causes "religious disadvantage" to other faiths and Christian denominations. The Home Office is considering the report.

Members of the public have raised concerns with the Home Office regarding the Church of Scientology, particularly about financial demands made on church members, alienation of members from their families, and harassment of members who have left the church.

According to the Community Security Trust, the number of anti-Semitic incidents during 1999 was 412, compared with 385 in 1998. Public manifestations of anti-Semitism are confined largely to the political fringe, either far right or Islamist.

The country has both active interfaith and ecumenical movements. The Council of Christians and Jews was founded in 1942 to promote Christian-Jewish understanding. It continues its work to advance better relations between the two religions and to combat anti-Semitism. In the postwar period, as other religious communities arose in Britain, new interfaith organizations evolved. The Interfaith Network was established in 1987 and links a wide range of religious and educational organizations with an interest in interfaith relations, including the national representative bodies of the Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Zoroastrian communities. The newest vehicle for the promotion of interfaith cooperation is the Inner Cities Religious Council, which has helped to encourage interfaith activity through regional conferences and support for local initiatives.

The main ecumenical body is the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland. The Council serves as the main forum for interchurch cooperation and collaboration. Interchurch cooperation is not limited to dealings among denominations at the national level. At the local level, for example, local Anglican parishes may share their church with Roman Catholic congregations.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights. In Northern Ireland, longstanding issues related to religion have been part of the political and economic struggle largely between Protestant and Catholic communities. As an active participant in the peace process, the U.S. Government has supported efforts to diminish sectarian tension and promote dialog between the two largest religious communities.

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