A series of cases, some of them with a high media profile, suggest that freedom of religion or belief in the United Kingdom is being undermined by the operation of new equality laws. This article outlines the constitutional context for liberty and equality rights as well as the main ways in which religious liberty is secured by and within equality law. However, British equality law puts pressure on religious liberty in four ways: (1) it confines the relevance of ‘religion’ to limited social contexts; (2) it creates a priority for equality-perspectives over liberty-perspectives on social conflict; (3) it generates new social assumptions about what individuals have to believe and say (or refrain from saying) if they are to be trusted to uphold the law; (4) it provides legitimation for the imposition of contested comprehensive equality doctrines, some of which are inimical to civil liberty. In response, it is important to emphasise the role of equality law as a tool to secure mutual toleration and equal rights in the face of religious and ethical disagreement.
- religious liberty
- constitutional rights