Dimensions of Religious Prejudice

Two reports have been published in the last couple of days which shed light on the scale of religious prejudice in contemporary society:

Religious discrimination in the European Union

Discrimination on the grounds of religion or beliefs is perceived as more pervasive in the UK than in many other European countries. One-half of UK adults say that it is very or fairly widespread here, 5% more than when the question was last asked in 2009. The figure is well above the European Union (EU) average of 39% and only exceeded by five other EU countries (peaking in France on 66%). The proportion falls to 38% (compared with the EU average of 33%) when confined to discrimination outside the workplace, with 14% contending that insufficient is being done to advance religious diversity at work. Three in ten regard the economic recession as a contributory factor in the increase in discrimination in the labour market based on religion or beliefs.

At the same time, only 3% of UK citizens say that they felt personally discriminated against or harassed on the basis of religion or beliefs during the previous twelve months, although more (10%) claim to have witnessed or heard of somebody suffering such treatment in the same period. Friends and acquaintances across the religion or belief divide are reported by 84% in the UK, up by 5% since 2009 and 17% above the EU average. However, some 13% still feel uncomfortable at the prospect of a member of a minority religion being elected as prime minister, albeit a decrease on 21% in 2009 and lower than the EU norm, while 15% consider that wearing a visible religious symbol could put an employment candidate at a potential disadvantage.

A background question on religious affiliation revealed that 32% of UK citizens describe themselves as atheists or agnostics, 2% more than two years ago, and 9% more than in all EU nations combined (the country range being from zero in Cyprus and Romania to 59% in the Czech Republic). Of the remainder of UK adults, 15% are categorized as Catholic, 1% as Orthodox, 23% as Protestant, 19% as other Christian, 6% as non-Christian, 2% of another religion, and 2% undecided.   

Source: Face-to-face interviews with 1,301 adults aged 15 and over in the UK, conducted by TNS UK between 2 and 17 June 2012 as part of wave 77.4 of Eurobarometer, and on behalf of the European Commission. Interviews were also carried out in the other 26 member states of the EU. Topline analysis of the survey can be found in Discrimination in the EU in 2012, Special Eurobarometer Report 393, published on 22 November 2012 and available to download at:


BRIN’s coverage of the European Commission’s 2009 discrimination survey can still be read at:


Religiously aggravated offending in Scotland

There was an increase of 26% in the number of charges with a religious aggravation recorded in Scotland in 2011-12 compared with 2010-11. The rise is thought to be partly attributable to greater awareness and reporting of such crimes. The main charges were breach of the peace (42%) and threatening or abusive behaviour (47%). Court proceedings were initiated in 88% of charges, some of which were ongoing at the end of 2011-12. In cases which were concluded and resulted in a conviction, punishments comprised fines (43%), community penalty (22%), and custodial sentences (20%), with 15% classified as other (such as a warning).

Two-fifths of all charges were in the city of Glasgow (albeit down from 51% in 2010-11), with 10% in North Lanarkshire. The overwhelming majority (93%) of the accused were men, and 58% were aged between 16 and 30, with 35% aged 31-50. In 57% of cases the offences were judged to be alcohol-related, 9% drug-related, and 31% football-related. Roman Catholics were the targets of abuse in 58% of charges and Protestants in 40%. Relatively few offences, 2% each, were derogatory of Islam (19 out of 876) or Judaism (14). Police officers were the most common victims (51%), with a community rather than individual abused in 30% of instances.

Source: Analysis of 876 charges with a religious aggravation brought by police in Scotland in the financial year 2011-12 under Section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003. Summarized in Amy Goulding and Ben Cavanagh, Religiously Aggravated Offending in Scotland, 2011-12, published by Scottish Government Social Research on 23 November 2012, and available to download from:



British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

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