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Sunday workers found still alleging discrimination

13 September 2013

DEMOTIX

Adjusting her veil: Malala Yousafzai, who survived being shot by the Taliban for speaking out in support of girls' rights to education in Pakistan, officially opened the Library of Birmingham, now Europe's largest library,  on Tuesday of last week

Adjusting her veil: Malala Yousafzai, who survived being shot by the Taliban for speaking out in support of girls' rights to education in Pakis...

TEN YEARS after the first law barring religious discrimination came into force, new forms of unfair treatment are being reported, particularly by Christians, new research suggests.

Religion and Belief, Discrimination and Equality in England and Wales: A decade of continuity and change highlights more Christians reporting concerns about Sunday-working policies and practices. Some Christians also articulated "a sense of the marginalisation of Christianity compared with its historic position in society, and spoke of what they felt was a now comparatively fairer treatment of other religion or belief groups compared to Christians".

The author of the report, Dr Paul Weller, Professor of Inter-Religious Relations at the University of Derby, based his findings on 500 responses to a survey of religious organisations in England and Wales, in 2011. Interviews, focus groups, and workshops were also conducted, while 130 relevant legal cases were reviewed.

Professor Weller concluded that, since the 2003 Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations came into force, there has been a reduction in the reported experi-ence of unfair treatment on the basis of religion or belief, particularly in criminal justice and employment.

The research highlighted "substantial levels" of such reports in important areas of people's lives, however, particularly in education, employment, and the media. This was generally occasional rather than frequent, and more to do with the attitudes and behaviour of individuals than with the policies or practices of organisations.

Muslims and Pagans reported higher levels of unfair treatment than other groups. Jewish organisations reported "significant experience of anti-Semitism", including stereotyping and targeted attacks on Jewish property.

Professor Weller cautions that "the introduction of new laws has not been a panacea", pointing to "unresolved tensions in the interpretation and application of domestic law".

Participants in the research preferred public education as the means of tackling unfair treatment; there was not as much appetite for new laws, in comparison with 2001.

Clothing ban. Students at Birmingham Metropolitan College have criticised a policy that prohibits clothing that conceals the face, in-cluding hoods, hats, caps, and veils.

A prospective 17-year-old female Muslim student told the Birmingham Mail: "I find it absolutely shocking that this has been brought in at a college in Birmingham city centre when the city is so multicultural and so many of the students are Muslim. It upsets me that we are being discriminated against. I don't think my niqab prevents me from studying or communicating with anyone - I've never had any problems in the city before."

The Principal and chief executive of the college, Dame Christine Braddock, said that the policy had been developed to keep students safe: "This needs individuals to be easily identifiable at all times when they are on college premises, and this includes the removal of hoodies, hats, caps, and veils so that faces are visible."

Interviews with students identi-fied mixed views of the policy.

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