Diversity Guide – Religion and Belief

Under the Equality Act 2010 the Protected Characteristic of Religion and Belief means: Religious and philosophical beliefs including having no particular religious belief. Generally, a belief should affect your life choices or the way you live for it to be included in the definition. Religion and belief includes:

  • Atheists
  • Agnostics
  • Bahá’í
  • Buddhists
  • Christians
  • Hindus
  • Humanists (form of atheism)
  • Jews
  • Muslims
  • No faith or religion
  • Pagans
  • Sikhs
  • Other faiths and beliefs (unable to list all)

Christians are protected because of their Christianity but non-Christians are also protected because they are not Christians, irrespective of any other religion or belief they may have or not have.

Courts would determine what is or isn’t a religion. It need not be mainstream, but should have a clear structure and belief system to be counted. Philosophical beliefs, to be included, must: be genuine, not an opinion or viewpoint, a weighty and substantial aspect of human life, attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, be worthy of respect and compatible with dignity and rights of others. For example, racist and ‘far-right’ beliefs and ideologies are excluded.

Cultural and religious festivals, Sabbaths and holidays should be acknowledged and recognised across the Council so that leave is not unreasonably withheld from staff who may wish to celebrate them.

Public meetings and other meetings should take account of festivals, holidays, prayer/contemplation needs and Sabbaths. However, no-one should be forced to participate in an act of collective worship such as prayers or other religious custom or subjected to a detriment because they do not participate; the rights of people to have ‘no belief’ or a different belief should also be respected.

A room for quiet contemplation and prayer is available at County Hall for staff, elected Members and visitors.

Managers will need to consider requests for extended leave for religious pilgrimage or funerals and such requests must not be unreasonably refused. Where necessary, unpaid leave should be considered if annual or compassionate leave has been used up.

Respect people’s rights to dress in accordance with a genuine religious requirement (including clothing, headwear, jewellery and rules about bearing flesh). Dress restrictions should only apply where there is a substantial and proven risk to health, safety and security or the dress is proven to interfere with a member of staff’s ability to perform their duties, or any other substantial and objective reason such as decency. Further advice should be sought from the Lead Officer for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion before imposing a ban or restriction. Be mindful that people may choose whether other not to wear traditional dress and interpret dress codes in different ways. Sometimes national cultural influences dress, rather than religious rules.

Many religions have strict rules about diet such as halal (Islam), and kosher (Jewish), and vegetarian and vegan (Buddhist, for example). Alcohol and other stimulants such as caffeine may also be forbidden. Use of pork products (gelatine) and other animal derivatives in non-food items may be forbidden.

Show respect and consideration when people are fasting for religious reasons by being sensitive to the requirements and implications of fasting. Managers should support staff as appropriate.

Practices concerning death vary between religions which can include what should happen to someone who is dying, what should happen to their body and how quickly it should happen.

Guides to the world’s major religions and beliefs

This guide is intended to promote an awareness of religious diversity in Devon with an emphasis on respect but is not intended to be definitive. We hope that the guide will be of practical and symbolic importance in helping to engage effectively with colleagues and communities. You are welcome to download and print copies for your own use.

NHS Scotland have produced a Multi-faith Guide for Healthcare Staff.

The Devon Faith and Belief Forum also has an online guide.

Also see our guide on Blessings, Rituals and Last Rites during a Pandemic.

Religion and Belief Equality Checklist

  • Where relevant, are people’s belief in God, gods or having no belief respected?
  • Are Prayer or Sabbath or other religious festival commitments respected when needed?
  • When serving food, have you taken into account diverse dietary needs such as providing vegetarian and vegan options (or having a veg-only meal), separating veg, poultry/meat, pork and fish? Will food be labelled clearly? Alcohol may be forbidden – is this taken into account at social events? Will people who are fasting be respected?
  • Do dress codes cater for religious needs?
  • Does language or imagery used in communications reflects diversity and reduce stereotyping?
  • Could a location be affected by a closure or restriction (for example, an area near to a place of worship or regular meeting place); particularly relevant for highways planning and maintenance or public transport links.
  • Staff awareness – links to ‘cultural competency’ (particularly relevant for direct care services).
  • Whether people with different faiths and beliefs have equal access to the service or benefits? What evidence do you have?
  • Whether there are any barriers to participation e.g. low numbers compared to the population? What evidence do you have and what can you do to mitigate those barriers?
  • Other factors that are relevant to your service:

…what improvements can you make to any issues identified?