Religious belief/Political opinion equality
Part of the Equality Commission's remit is to tackle unlawful discrimination and unlawful harassment on the grounds of religious or similar philosophical belief and political opinion.
Details about our work in this area can be found in various sections across the website, but the information here sets out current and recent policy and research work along with relevant publications and legislation.
We believe that equality, social attitudes and good relations are inextricably linked and must be central to all public policy decisions. We work with government departments and with public and private employers to raise awareness and find solutions to issues which may give rise to inequalities.
'Together: Building a United Community'
We welcome the commitment in the NI Executive’s strategy ‘Together: Building a United Community’ of a framework for delivering good relations across a range of grounds.
We believe the three key areas that need addressed are:
Defining good relations
Measurements and outcomes
Read our full response to the strategy (pdf)
Advice on the flying of flags
The Commission’s remit in this area stems from our duties under the Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998 to promote equality of opportunity, affirmative action and to work for the elimination of religious/political discrimination, and our duty to offer advice to public authorities in relation to Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 . Given that flags and emblems may have a general relevance to these provisions and, indeed, have the potential to impact adversely on equality of opportunity and good relations, the Commission has a remit to provide guidance.
We propose that the principles contained in the Flags (NI) Order should form the basis of a framework for official displays of flags by district councils.
Promoting good and harmonious workplaces
Having a good and harmonious working environment is an important part of creating shared, welcoming and open spaces for people from all communities. We believe that helping businesses promote and encourage good equal opportunities practice is as important as enforcing the law.
Our guide for employers ‘Promoting a good and Harmonious Workplace’ distinguishes between symbols of those directly linked to inter-community conflict or associated with one religion or community.
Every year, the Equality Commission helps hundreds of businesses and organisations comply with equality laws, but we recognise that employers' needs differ across sectors and businesses – so we tailor our services to meet employers’ varying needs. We also run training courses and information sessions for employers and service providers:
Merger of teacher training colleges
In response to the Teacher Education Infrastructure Review’s consultation in 2011 we welcomed and encouraged the vision of cross-community School of Education but with some reservations.
Fair Employment law does not apply to most teachers
An exception dating back to the original drafting of Fair Employment legislation in NI means that teachers in schools are not protected in employment against discrimination on the grounds of religious or similar philosophical belief. The Equality Commission carried out a review in 2004 that concluded that the continuation of the exception will not further equality of opportunity for teachers.
Legal case decisions
The Commission recommends the removal of the exception in the employment provisions of Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998 in relation to the recruitment of teachers in secondary level schools, and early consideration as to whether the exception should also be removed for primary level schools.
Two legal cases supported by the Equality Commission helped to clarify the law:
- Flynn & Debast v Laurelhill Community College & SEELB (2007) - A fair employment tribunal decision confirmed that the exception applies both to the initial recruitment of teachers and to promotion.
Same sex marriage recommendations
We support the introduction of legislation permitting same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, including sufficient safeguards for religious organisations.
We recommend that there are clear protections within the legislation so as to make sure unequivocally that no religious organisation or individual is forced to marry same-sex couples, whilst also ensuring that those organisations who wish to conduct these marriages can also opt in, as they can for civil partnerships. It is important that rights relating to freedom of religious belief, as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), are safeguarded.
Investigations into public bodies’ non-compliance with their equality schemes
The Equality Commission has powers to investigate complaints that public authorities have failed to comply with their equality schemes from people who are directly affected by such failure, and we can also initiate such investigations.
We receive complaints about public authorities’ commitments in their equality schemes in respect of good relations. The majority of these complaints to date have focused on the display of flags and memorabilia by district councils. Frequently such complaints will refer both to the duty of equality of opportunity and the good relations duty.
Completed investigations typically set out whether the alleged failure to comply with the equality scheme has been established, and the action it recommends in light of such failure.
Recent press releases and articles
Press releases, articles and blogs relating to religious or similar philosophical belief and/or political opinion
are available online
Recent legal cases
Examples of legal cases relating to religious or similar philosophical belief/political opinion:
Further examples of legal case decisions and settlements are available online
Programme for Government
The Equality Commission has set out its recommendations in relation to the next Programme for Government (PfG) and Budget of the NI Executive. We have highlighted the need for a clear commitment in the PfG to address key inequalities experienced by S75 groups, underpinned by robust measures, as well as a commitment to promote good relations. Read our key point briefing (pdf)
or recommendations in full
Further information is available on the Programme for Government section of our website www.equalityni.org/pfg