Skip to main content
In order to provide complete functionality, this web site needs your explicit consent to store browser cookies. If you don't allow cookies, you may not be able to use certain features of the web site including but not limited to: log in, buy products, see personalized content, switch between site cultures. It is recommended that you allow all cookies.
Unsure of your equality rights or the law? We can provide advice and assistance for people who feel they have been discriminated against.

Religious belief/ Political opinion

Service related problem
Religion Politics
UNDER REVIEW: This section of the website is currently under review following the Supreme Court’s judgement on Lee v Ashers Baking Co Ltd. If you have any queries about equality legislation in relation to service provision please contact us by email or telephone 028 90500600


Have I been discriminated against because of my religious belief and/or political opinion?

If you have been treated unfairly on grounds of religious belief or political opinion, this may be unlawful discrimination.

‘Religious belief grounds’ includes any religion or faith, for example:
  • Protestant
  • Roman Catholic
  • Judaism
  • Islam
  • Eastern Orthodox Christianity
  • Hinduism
  • Buddhism


‘Political opinion’ includes support of any Northern Ireland or UK government politics and matters of public policy.  For example:  Treated less favourably because you are or perceived to be nationalist or unionist. However, not all political opinions have the protection of the law. It does not protect political opinions that support or approve of the use of violence for political ends.

Your rights also apply if you do not hold any religious belief or political opinion.

If as a result of these grounds you are treated worse than another person in a similar situation, you can challenge the treatment under the law.

Is all religious belief or political opinion discrimination the same?

No, there are different types of religious belief and political opinion discrimination, and it doesn’t have to be intentional to be unlawful. The main forms are:

  • Direct discrimination is where you are treated worse than others, on grounds of your religious belief or political opinion, when a service provider:
- Refuses or deliberately fails to provide a service
- Provides a service of a lower quality, in a worse manner or on worse terms than is normally the case

For example:  A customer in a local shop is ignored by the shop keeper who serves other customers before him.  When finally served the shop keeper refuses to speak to or look at the customer.  The shop keeper is aware of the customer’s political opinion.


  • Indirect discrimination is where a service provider unjustifiably operates a rule or policy that looks the same for everyone but in effect disadvantages people from your religious belief or political opinion group.

For example:  A school has a uniform policy which prevents pupils wearing items of clothing other than the set uniform.  This policy could discriminate against young Sikhs, as they must be able to wear a turban at school as part of their religious belief.

  • Harassment is where a person behaves in a way, based on religious belief or political opinion grounds, that violates your dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

For example:  A woman, who identifies as Pagan, works in a local fast food restaurant.  Her neighbour’s teenage son, who is aware of her belief, regularly goes into the restaurant when she is working and makes jokes about her religious belief.


  • Victimisation is where you have made a complaint of religious belief or political opinion discrimination or helped someone else make a complaint about a service provider under the fair employment and treatment law, and suffered as a result.

For example:   A woman provides a witness statement in support of a person who has alleged sectarian harassment at the village community centre.  She receives a letter informing her that she can no longer use the facilities, and no reason for the decision is provided


How am I protected against religious belief and political opinion discrimination?

You are protected from religious belief and political opinion discrimination in the provision of a wide range of services whether they are paid for or free. They include:

  • Access to public places
  • Facilities for education 
  • Housing / Accommodation
  • Health
  • Receiving or using services such as:

– Financial services – Banking / Insurance
– Government departments
– Entertainment
– Transport

  • Professional or trade services


However, there are limited circumstances where religious belief and political opinion discrimination is allowed.

Membership of political parties, associations and charities set up for people of a particular religious belief or political opinion group may be allowed to discriminate in some circumstances.


What are my options?

1. Contact our Discrimination Advice Officers who will provide you with free and confidential information and guidance to help you resolve your issue.

2. Raise your complaint directly with the service provider and seek a resolution.

3. If a resolution is not reached and you wish to take your case further we may be able to provide you with legal representation. You must lodge your complaint of discrimination with the County Court.

NB: Only a County Court decides whether the treatment you have complained of is unlawful discrimination. It is separate to, and independent from, the Equality Commission.


Contact us
If you require assistance or would like to make a discrimination complaint, complete our online form or telephone 028 90 500 600.


Useful publications

Publications (in pdf format) relevant to religious belief and political opinion discrimination:

Time limits apply

Remember there are strict time limits for taking a discrimination case. Complaints relating to services must be made to the court within six months of the discriminatory act.

Even if you are attempting to resolve problems, the statutory time limits still apply.  You may wish to issue proceedings to protect your legal interests if the matter has not resolved close to the expiry of the time limit.

If your time limit has expired the tribunal has discretion to extend the time for you to lodge your claim; this is used sparingly and it is unwise to assume that an extension will be granted.

< Problem with a service
Ask for advice
If you require information or advice please complete our online form. All information you submit is confidential – and if you wish to be contacted by us, please let us know the best way for you. You don’t have to share any personal information with us – we will not be able to identify you if that is your preference.

Make a discrimination complaint
We may be able to provide you with legal assistance. If you want to find out more, please use our discrimination complaint form to tell us the nature of your discrimination complaint and whether it is related to your age, disability, gender, race, religious belief/political opinion or sexual orientation.

Tell us what happened and we will contact you to talk through your complaint further.

Equality Commission NI
Alternatively, contact us:

Telephone: 028 90 500 600

Equality House
7-9 Shaftesbury Square
Belfast  BT2 7DP

We have listed below current legislation relevant to religious belief and political opinion discrimination. You should note that equality and anti-discrimination law may be changed or updated. The law is also complex and can require interpretation. Please feel free to contact our discrimination advice team if you need clarification or guidance on what the law means. Email: or tel: 028 90 500 600.

Main law:


Amending laws:


Mr McKelvy's Story
This was the first case concerning the sale of land brought under the Fair Employment and Treatment Order. This complaint settled out of court but a subsequent case in the County court linked to the same transaction held that the original sale was tainted by religious and/or political discrimination.

The land had been publicly advertised with a stated closing date. Mr Mc Kelvey, a Protestant had on several occasions contacted the landowner’s solicitor and was told that the owner had already sold the land to a co-religionist prior to the set date. After considering evidence of the original selling process the Court found that because the closing date had been brought forward and the land sold to a co-religionist, the original agreement had been tainted with unlawful religious/ politicial discrimination.  Mr McKelvey completed the purchase of the land. 

In a separate action taken by the original purchaser, he was awarded £20,000 damages and legal costs against the landowner.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements

Ted's Story
Ted Cooke, his wife and family arrived at the Northern Whig for lunch.  The doorman told them they could not go in as they were wearing poppies.  They turned and went away.

Ted believed they suffered unlawful discrimination on grounds of religious belief or political opinion and challenged the idea that the poppy was being identified as a sectarian symbol.

The case outcome proved indirect discrimination and based on the assertion that the poppy is an emblem worn predominantly by those of the Unionist or Protestant tradition in Northern Ireland. This would not be the wish of the Royal British Legion as the poppy is not worn exclusively by Protestant people even though a significant proportion of people in Northern Ireland displaying the poppy would come from that tradition.  By denying services the Botanic Inns, the then owners of the Northern Whig were indirectly discriminating against him on the grounds of his religious belief and political opinion.

Ted had indicated to the court that he was not seeking compensation but a declaration that what happened was unlawful discrimination. The company paid all legal expenses.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements
Greg's Story
Greg attended Lifestyle Sports & Leisure Store in Craigavon to see if they could print on a child’s football jersey he previously purchased from another store.  He was informed that they could.  On discovering that it was a Celtic jersey, he was informed that they do not print on Celtic jerseys. 

Greg’s sister phoned the store later that day and too asked the assistant and was told they could.  They concluded that it was different assistants that dealt with each enquiry and the first assistant discriminated against him on grounds of his religion as Celtic supports are perceived to be mainly from the Catholic community.

Proceedings were lodged in the County Court.  Lifestyle Sports & Leisure Ltd paid Greg Mulholland £500 without admission of liability and full county court costs.  They had to review its policies, practices and procedures with the Equality Commission.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements

Print All