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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

Education service

What you need to know

How we can help

The Legislation


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

If you have been treated unfairly by a further or higher education provider on grounds of religious belief or political opinion, this may be unlawful discrimination.

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

Political opinion’ includes support of any Northern Ireland and UK government politics and matters of public policy.  For example:  Treated less favourably because you are perceived to be nationalist or unionist.

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 in education under the law.  For example, if you:

  • are treated worse than another potential  student or harassed when applying to a university / institution of further and higher education
  • are refused an application to a university/institution of further and higher education
  • are refused or treated worse than a present student when accessing benefits for a university/institution of further and higher education
  • are excluded from a university/institution of further and higher education or subjected to any other detriment.

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 because of your religious belief or political opinion.

For example: A potential student applies to a university for a course that has only one place left.  Her application is declined because of her religion and the successful student of a different religion is offered the place even though she has fewer qualifications than is required for entry.


  • Indirect discrimination is where a university/institution of further and higher education 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 university’s admission policy includes a criterion to provide preference to requests for admissions to people born in Northern Ireland.  This criterion restricts the number of applicants from other countries and could result in disadvantaging different religions.


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

For example: An institute of further and higher education makes no attempt to stop or remove sectarian graffiti being displayed in the toilets.  This is creating an intimidating educational environment.

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

For example: In recent years a student applied for benefits to assist with his studies and was always successful, this year he is refused access to benefits as he was a witness for a student in a court hearing.


How am I protected against religious and political discrimination?

You are protected from religious belief and political opinion discrimination in a university or institution of further and higher education:

  • Applying for admission
  • Access to benefits
  • Exclusion from the establishment.


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

  • Training provided for employment or occupation of a clergyman or minister of religion

The provision of goods, facilities and services provided by:

  • Schools
  • College of education

What are my options?

What can I do myself?

1. Contact our Discrimination Advice Officers who will provide you with free and confidential information and guidance. Should you decide to take your case to court, you can ask for us to provide legal representation.

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

3. Go directly to court with your own legal representative to lodge a complaint of discrimination.

How can the Equality Commission help me?

1. We provide advice and assistance.

2. We provide legal representation in a limited number of cases.

Only a 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


Time limits apply

Remember there are strict time limits for taking a case of religious belief or political opinion discrimination. Complaints relating to education 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.

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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:


Supplementary laws:


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