Religion and belief

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According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, under the Equality Act religion has the meaning usually given to it but belief includes religious and philosophical beliefs including lack of belief (e.g. Atheism). Generally, a belief should affect your life choices or the way you live for it to be included in the definition.

Within the NHS, the broader idea of 'spiritual care' has been embraced. It is defined as "a natural dimension of what it means to be human, which includes the awareness of self, or relationships with others and with creation".

Scottish Government Evidence Reviews

The Scottish Government has published a series of Equality Evidence Reviews, to inform the development of the public sector equality outcomes. The reviews explore available evidence about the scale and severity of issues faced by people with protected characteristics. View the review covering religion and belief


The results of the 2011 census provide an overview of statistics on religion and belief in Scotland, as well as relevant equality issues.

The Scottish Government evidence finder also provides useful equalities evidence on religion and belief.


The Christie Commission Report, the NHS Healthcare Quality Strategy, and Equally Well are all relevant to those with a religious faith or no religious belief. For further information, visit our policy page.

The Scottish Government has issued guidance on spritual care in the NHS in Scotland.


The Equality Act 2010 provides a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals and advance equality of opportunity for all. There are nine ‘protected characteristics’ under the Act, including religion or belief. Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful for someone to discriminate against you because of your religion or belief or because you have no religion or belief:

  • in any aspect of employment
  • when providing goods, facilities and services or
  • when exercising public functions.

There are, however, some limited exceptions when discrimination may be lawful, for example, in provision of a service to meet particular needs of a group such as a church-based hospice. There are more examples on the Equality and Human Rights Commission website

Under human rights and anti-discrimination legislation, you have the right to hold your own religious beliefs or other philosophical beliefs similar to a religion. You also have the right to have no religion or belief.

Updated May 2015

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