Scottish Government Equality Outcomes: Religion and Belief Evidence Review

This evidence review was prepared to support the production of the Scottish Government's Equality Outcomes, with regard to religion.


8.1 Hate crime is generally understood to be a crime motivated by malice and ill-will towards a social group[31]. Section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 makes provision for offences aggravated by religious prejudice, and the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 strengthens the statutory aggravations for racial and religiously motivated crimes.

8.2 This section outlines the prevalence of hate crimes, the religious motivation for crime, and discrimination and abuse more generally. The EHRC Triennial Review[32] notes that (in 2010) trend analysis of hate crime was difficult because of it being a relatively new concept, and its recording might be expected to fluctuate until it has become embedded in institutional practice.


8.3 The Crown Office provides information on charges that include an aggravation of religiously motivated behaviour in terms of Section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003[33].

8.4 It reports that there were 897 charges with a religious aggravation reported in 2011-12, 29% more than in 2010-11, and the highest number since the relevant legislation came into force. The Crown Office suggests that this large increase is likely to be partly due to increased awareness, reporting and recording of these crimes, following several incidents which received significant media attention during 2011- 12.

8.5 In 2011-12, court proceedings were commenced in 86% of charges, a similar level to previous years. In total, 1% of charges reported in 2011-12 were dealt with by direct measures including referral to the Children's Reporter. No action was taken in respect of 3% of charges.

Victims of crime - religious motivation

8.6 Results from the 2010/11 Scottish Crime and Justice Survey[34] showed that racial, religious or sectarian motivations may each have lain behind 1% of all incidents. The remaining 97% of incidents were not thought to have such motivations.

8.7 Religiously Aggravated Offending in Scotland offers a further breakdown of religious aggravations charges, under section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act in Scotland in 2011-12[35]. This goes beyond the analysis provided by the Crown Office in Hate Crime in Scotland, in its attempt to identify the religious groups that were targeted. The authors explain how they did this:

Information about the nature of the religiously offensive conduct which related to the aggravation was taken from the police report of the incident. There is no separate section within police reports for the police to state which religious belief in their view was targeted. Therefore an assessment was made by the researchers involved in this work on the religion which appeared to be targeted based on a description of the incident and the details about what was said or done by the accused. The religious beliefs or affiliations of the accused or the victims of the offence are not formally recorded anywhere in the report as they are not relevant to the definition of the crime in the law. This report does not therefore present information about the religious beliefs or affiliations of the people targeted by the offensive conduct (p13).

8.8 Table 6 shows that the main difference between 2010-11 and 2011-12 was a slight rise in the proportion of anti-Protestantism charges from 37% to 40%. Smaller proportional increases were recorded for Roman Catholicism and Islam. The proportion of anti-Judaism and anti-Christianity charges reduced slightly.

Table 6: Religious groups targeted in 2010-11 and 2011-12 (Source: Scottish Government, 2012)

Table 6: Religious groups targeted in 2010-11 and 2011-12 (Source: Scottish Government, 2012)

Note: the percentages do not add up to 100 as some charges related to conduct which targeted more than one religious group.

8.9 The police were victims of the religious abuse in 51% of the charges in 2011-12, and were the most common target in both years. These charges often referred to incidents where the police had arrested someone for an offence and were subsequently abused by him or her in religiously offensive terms. Religion of victim is not noted by the police as it does not bear relevance to the law.

8.10 A TNS poll in 2011[36] found that 91% of people agreed that stronger action needed to be taken to tackle sectarianism and offensive behaviour associated with football in Scotland. This underlines the need to tackle hate crime generally and sectarianism in particular.

Religious discrimination

8.11 Redmond (2011)[37] concludes that Muslim communities, within Scotland and across Britain, experience incidences of both religious discrimination and racial discrimination, supporting arguments of a 'double burden'.

8.12 For many of the research participants in the primary research conducted by Redmond, their area of residence was a site of unpleasant encounters. For some young women the most common incidents involved unwanted intrusive attention from men, sexism or sexual harassment rather than racism, but in some areas, both young women and men were subjected to frequent racist insults. Experience ranged, according to place of residence, from frequent physical intrusions and regular verbal abuse to almost never experiencing even verbal insults. On the streets and in their everyday navigation of the city, most participants had had some experience of unfriendliness and hostility that they saw as unequivocally racist. Typically, the research participants were concerned at the lack of understanding for their religion and they wished that others would learn more about their religion. While some were aware of anti-racist campaigns and appreciative of actions against racism, many felt little was being done to combat anti-Muslim sentiments.

8.13 A recent EHRC study[38] looks at the impact of counter terror measures on Muslims in Britain. It examines the diverse experiences of Muslims on the street and in the community, at ports and airports, and in mosques, schools and universities, as a result of counter terrorism measures. It finds that when it comes to experiences of counter-terrorism, Muslims and non-Muslims from the same local areas who participated in this research appear to live 'parallel lives'. Counter-terrorism measures are contributing to a wider sense among Muslims that they are being treated as a 'suspect community' and targeted by authorities simply because of their religion. Many participants, while not referring to specific laws or policies, felt that counter-terrorism law and policy generally was contributing towards hostility to Muslims by treating Muslims as a 'suspect group', and creating a climate of fear and suspicion towards them.

8.14 In Scotland extremism was seen by most as a problem that existed largely south of the border, and emphasis was placed on the fact that those involved in the attacks at Glasgow Airport were not part of the local Scottish Muslim community. Furthermore, the approach and response of the Scottish Government to 7/7 and the Glasgow bombings were seen by interviewees as distinct from and better than that of the British government. The fact that national security and counter-terrorism policies are a reserved matter for the UK government was also important.

Scottish Social Attitudes Surveys

8.15 Findings from the last Scottish Social Attitudes survey provide a detailed picture of public attitudes to discrimination and positive action in 2010[39]. As this is now the third time that the survey has included questions on attitudes to discrimination (following previous studies in 2002 and 2006, and more limited questions in 2003), this report also provides valuable insight into how public attitudes in this area are changing over time.

8.16 The report identifies the main change between 2002 and 2006 as that, in the wake of a number of terrorist events associated with people who professed an Islamic faith, together with relatively high levels of immigration into the UK, more people were of the view that Scotland would lose its identity if more Muslims came to Scotland. In addition, more people agreed that ethnic minorities take jobs away from other people in Scotland. There was also a small increase in the proportion who said that they would be unhappy if a close relative were to form a long-term relationship with a Muslim. Meanwhile, there was no significant difference between the 2002 and 2006 surveys in the proportion who felt that sometimes there is good reason to be prejudiced.

8.17 The report further states that there has been no significant change in discriminatory attitudes towards Muslims since 2006, which thus remain somewhat more prevalent than they were in 2003. Just under half (49%) now agree that 'Scotland would begin to lose its identity if more Muslims came to live in Scotland', almost identical to the 50% who were of that view in 2006, but well up on the 38% who supported the proposition in 2003. Similarly, if less dramatically, 23% now say they would be unhappy if a close relative were to form a relationship with a Muslim, compared with 24% in 2006 and 20% in 2003. Meanwhile, 15% now say that a Muslim would be unsuitable as a primary school teacher, exactly the same proportion as in 2006. There also appears to have been no change in the incidence of discriminatory attitudes towards other minority religious groups. In 2010, 18% said that they would be unhappy if a close relative were to form a relationship with a Hindu - a figure not significantly different from the 19% that said this in 2006. Meanwhile, 9% expressed unhappiness at the prospect of a close relative entering into a long-term relationship with someone who is Jewish, again little different from the 10% that did so in 2006.

8.18 The analysis of the 2010 survey cross-referenced attitudes towards Muslims against a question about tolerance of prejudice[40]. Those who were most concerned about the impact of immigration on Scotland's culture and identity appeared to be most likely to feel that prejudice is sometimes justifiable: among those who agreed strongly that Scotland would lose its identity if more Muslims moved here, over half (52%) felt that prejudice can be justifiable, compared with just 7% of those who disagreed strongly that Muslim immigration would erode Scotland's identity. These differences are much larger than those based on social or economic differences between respondents. Moreover, multivariate analysis confirms that these concerns about immigration are more strongly related than either social or economic factors to viewing prejudice as sometimes acceptable.

8.19 The same analysis also cross-referenced whether respondents know any Muslims, against the question about tolerance of prejudice, to explore whether those who have contact with different kinds of people are less accepting of prejudice in general. Those who know someone who is Muslim were significantly less likely than those who did not, to say there was sometimes good reason for prejudice.

8.20 In order to examine people's attitudes to religious dress and symbols, the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2010 asked about employers' rights to request the removal of religious symbols at work. It asked whether a bank should be able to insist that customer-service employees remove the following religious dress or symbols while at work: a Sikh man who wears a turban, a Christian woman who wears a crucifix, a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf, and a Muslim woman who wears a veil. The results suggest that attitudes to religious symbols vary not only with the religion in question - with Christian symbols attracting less discomfort than those associated with Sikhism or Islam - but also with the symbol in question.

  • People were least likely to accept that a bank should be able to insist that a Christian woman take off a crucifix while at work, with just 15% thinking this. This finding is perhaps unsurprising given that 80% of people in Scotland say they were brought up in a Christian faith, and are therefore more likely to be familiar and comfortable with the symbols associated with that religion.
  • Around a quarter said a bank should be able to insist a potential employee removes a turban or a headscarf. However, in spite of the fact both symbols are associated with Islam, the veil attracted a much stronger response than the headscarf - 69% said a bank should be able to insist a Muslim woman removes a veil, compared with 23% who said the same for a headscarf. Moreover, even among those who said the bank definitely or probably should not be able to insist a Muslim woman remove a headscarf, 63% nonetheless thought they should be able to insist they remove a veil.

8.21 In terms of education, there was much less variation in attitudes to the veil than in attitudes to the headscarf: 71% of those with no qualifications supported a bank's right to ask for a veil to be removed, little higher than the 68% of graduates who did so. Moreover, while employers, managers and professionals were less likely than those in routine occupations to feel it is acceptable for a bank to ask a female Muslim employee to remove a headscarf at work (18% compared with 26%), they were marginally more likely to say the bank should be able to insist they remove a veil (70% compared with 65%). It appears that while the well-educated middle classes are more comfortable than others with the headscarf, they are equally likely to express discomfort with the veil.

8.22 In contrast to the other three scenarios, support for a bank's right to ask an employee to remove a crucifix is highest among those aged under 35 (18-20%) and lowest among those aged over 45 (12-13%). The analysis suggests that this is perhaps because younger people are less likely to identify with Christianity or any other religion; and whilst older people are more likely to hold particular views about religions they may be more unfamiliar with, younger people are more critical in their views of religion in general.


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