Religion & Belief – but what does belief mean?

The Equality Act 2010 adopts the definition in the Regulations that belief means “any religious or philosophical belief”.Beliefs

Through tribunal findings the following criteria have been established a belief must be:

Additional findings include that, in order for the belief to be protected; it had to have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief, even though the word ‘similar’ had been removed from the definition under the previous 2003 religious regulations. Also it was not a bar to protection by the Regulations if the belief is a one-off belief and not shared by others.

To go to a tribunal an employee will still have to establish that the treatment they received was because of their belief.

Case Example:

In a employment tribunal recent case (March 2011) Mr Hashman had been a keen supporter of animal rights throughout his life, from the age of 13. At age 14 he joined the Hunt Saboteurs Association and over the years participated in campaigns of civil disobedience. At age 23 he became a vegan. He is retained as a consultant on hunting issues by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and has written extensively in the media on hunting. He became a member of, and worked for, other animal rights groups. His position on fox hunting was part of a wider belief that ‘people should live their lives with mindful respect for animals.’
When his contract was terminated by Orchard Park Garden Centre when they realised he was a hunt saboteur, he claimed his dismissal was on grounds of his philosophical belief in the sanctity of life, including his particular belief in the value of anti-hunt activism.
The tribunal accepted Mr Hashman’s evidence and concluded that his specific beliefs about fox hunting and hare coursing were part of a belief in the sanctity of life, and accepted that the claimant’s views were genuinely held. It was held that the claimant held a philosophical belief. However, the Judge emphasised that this decision is based very much on the facts relating to Mr Hashman, “I do not suggest that everyone who is opposed to fox hunting necessarily holds a philosophical belief within the meaning of the 2003 Regulations.”

Also as examples the ECHR (European Court of Human Rights) case law has held both veganism and pacifism to be beliefs that could be protected by the Equality Act.

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