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The law about this is a bit complicated.
In Northern Ireland everyone has been protected for some years against discrimination at work on the grounds of their religion. Because of the history of conflict between two branches of Christianity - Protestants and Catholics - the Fair Employment Act was passed. This protected people whatever their religion, so Muslims and Hindus were covered too.
Since 2003 it's been against the law anywhere in the UK to refuse someone a job on the grounds of their religion, and since 2006 it's been a crime to deliberately stir up religious hatred.
While there is no law protecting people from being treated badly in other ways because of their religion. The complicated bit is that, in practice, some people are protected by the Race Relations Act:

  • Jews are classified as a 'racial group' under the Race Relations Act because they have what's called a 'common heritage'. This means that almost all Jews are the children of Jews (it is possible to convert, but it is rare) and that people born as Jews tend to still call themselves Jews, even if they are not at all religious. Jews have also experienced such persecution that it would have been impossible not to have included them in the law. Their persecution in the past, especially under the Nazis, was not because of their religious beliefs.
  • Sikhs are also classified as a 'racial group' under the Race Relations Act because as well as religion they have common roots: a language and culture in the Punjab area of north west India. They are not physically any different from Muslims and Hindus from the same area.
  • If some action unfairly discriminates against a particular religion, then it may be that its followers are protected by the Race Relations Act if they all belong to one ethnic group. This is called indirect discrimination. (Example: strictly speaking it would be legal for a landlord to advertise for tenants saying 'Christians only', but in an area with many non-Christian Asian people, maybe the advert indirectly discriminates against them.)
At the moment, other laws give special protection to Christians:
  • Christians are protected by the blasphemy laws against their religion being publicly insulted. These laws were passed many years ago when almost the whole population would have said they were Christian, and when the Christian religion was much more a part of everyday life. No-one has been punished for this crime for a long time, but it may seem odd to the Britkids that it's a crime to insult the god that Christians believe in but not a crime to insult the god that Sikhs or Jews believe in. It's complicated though. Don't mix this up with the law against stirring up religious hatred, which is different.
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