Article 9 Freedom of religion

The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion includes:

  • the freedom to change religion or belief;
  • the freedom to exercise religion or belief publicly or privately, alone or with others;
  • the freedom to exercise religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance; and
  • the right to have no religion (e.g. to be atheist or agnostic) or to have non-religious beliefs protected (e.g. philosophical beliefs such as pacifism or veganism).

Freedom of religion does not prevent there being a state church, but no one can be forced to join a church, be involved in its activities or pay taxes to a church.

The role of the State is to encourage tolerance and all religions or non-religions, if regulated, must be regulated with complete neutrality.

The right to exercise, or manifest, one’s religion or belief will not generally be considered to be interfered with if a person is left with a choice as to whether or not to comply with his or her religious obligations.  However, there will be interference if restrictions make it practically difficult or almost impossible to exercise the religion or belief.

Limitations

Article 9 is a qualified right and as such the freedom to manifest a religion or belief can be limited, so long as the limitation:

  • is prescribed by law;
  • is necessary and proportionate; and
  • pursues a legitimate aim, namely:
    • the interests of public safety;
    • the protection of public order, health or morals; or
    • the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Note also section 13 of the HRA which emphasises the importance of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.  It provides that if a court or tribunal’s decision might affect the exercise of the right by a religious organisation or its members, the court or tribunal must have particular regard to the importance of the right. 

Case study - Nadia Eweida

In 2013 the European Court of Human Rights recognised that British Airways employee Nadia Eweida was discriminated at work because of her faith.

Ms Eweida was banned from visibly wearing a cross at work because it breached the airline’s uniform code. She took her case to Strasbourg after it was rejected in Britain at tribunal – a decision later upheld by the Court of Appeal. The European Court ruled that British Airways’ actions breached Articles 9 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights – freedom of thought, conscience and religion and non discrimination.

But the Court also rightly maintained that staff must not discriminate against others at work by dismissing two other claims.

Find out more about this case.