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ESLJ Volume 6 Number 1 Reviews

Religious Discrimination and Hatred Law by Neil Addison

Routledge-Cavendish, London, 2007. £31.95 pbk (ISBN 978 0 415 42030 3)

The place of religion in society and modernity is among the most contentious political issues in the first decade of the 21st century. Faith has been remarkably resilient and resurgent in the face of the secularisation that has characterised Western liberal democracies since the Enlightenment. The mobilisation of Christianity, in particular, has been central to political contests in the United States in recent years. The rise of evangelicalism has been observed in Australia as an emerging political consideration. In the United Kingdom the resurgence of Christianity has been less marked – former Prime Minister Tony Blair waited until his departure from office to convert to Catholicism – but religion in Britain receives constant and often critical attention. This is, arguably, most apparent in discussions of the ways that Islam takes its place in a multi-faith body politic and human rights laws offer protection for both freedom of religion and protection against discrimination that may be a part of religious practice.1This heightened sensitivity to and significance of the relationships between religion and politics make Neil Addison’s attention to the way that law regulates religious discrimination and hatred a timely contribution.


Addison’s objectives are stated clearly enough:

Like it or not, religion is increasingly being regarded as an inherent source of identity and not merely a system of belief. In consequence, discrimination and hatred laws which were designed to deal with racial identity are being adapted to cover religious identity also…This book is the first attempt to bring all [the] legal developments together and to look at them as a whole.2


To some extent these aims are met. Most certainly, it is a helpful collection of the ways that religious discrimination and hatred is subjected to legal regulation. The book addresses a range of legal instruments and laws: definitions of religion in statute and common law; human rights provisions; discrimination laws, especially as they relate to employment and education; harassment laws; religious crimes (such as blasphemy and religiously aggravated criminal damage and public order offences) and the religious hatred laws instituted under the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006. The book is split into a discussion of the law (149 pages) and appendices that reproduce the legislation and associated (mostly primary) source material (148 pages). Together, these provide a reader with a picture that is not present in any other work in the literature, and that makes it a very useful book.


In addition to the strictly legal materials the book includes a glossary of terms which may be helpful to a reader unfamiliar with the content, terminology or practices of any particular religion or unfamiliar with religious belief in any meaningful way. The discussion of legal issues that arise from religious practice – such as the wearing of particular clothes or religious images and the like – form part of his analysis of the law and the glossary makes the discussion very accessible in that regard. His list of ‘useful websites’ is a good starting point for pursuing the issues. The appendices include a reproduction of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) ‘Guidance on Religion or Belief in the Workplace’ which shows how matters of discrimination and hatred might be dealt with at the organisation level and in the daily life of workplaces. Similarly, the examples of how ‘genuine occupational requirements’ arise and may be dealt with are also useful.3These give operational substance to what legal texts can too easily depict as problems that are merely matters of lawfulness or unlawfulness.


There are some occasional editorial lapses. On two occasions paragraphs are repeated.4There are sometimes very long extracts from cases or Hansard where shorter extracts and/or an explanation might have been more helpful.5The legislation in the appendices might have been more judiciously edited. Among the reproduced material, Schedule 1 of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 - which contains the latitude and longitude sets for the Norwegian part of the Frigg Gas Field - could probably have been safely omitted!6


The minor quibbles aside, and keeping in mind that the strengths of the work are important, there are two major criticisms that might be levelled at the book. The first concerns the extent to which it meets the needs of its possible audiences. The second relates to the way the book approaches the law and the issues.


On the first point, it is not entirely clear who the intended readership is. The people most likely to find it useful are lawyers because it is in many respects a discussion of the way that the law operates and does or would apply to given scenarios. The analysis of religious discrimination in Chapter Three, for instance, includes a technical discussion of the laws and the legislative process that brought them into being. A reader who is concerned only what the laws will do would perhaps want a less technical discussion. On the other hand, politically oriented and scholarly audiences would perhaps want a more contextual and critical discussion of the law and the processes. That said, the examples are very accessible to the lawyer and the non-lawyer, and that is one of the true strengths of the book. In the end, it brings considerable technical legal knowledge to an area that the author sees as being of considerable cultural, political and spiritual importance. However, the contextual dimensions are never really addressed. To put it differently, Addison identifies the broader significance of the issues, and clearly cares about that broader significance, but his expertise lies in one particular aspect of those issues – viz., the law – and he limits his discussion to that.


The second concern is, I think, related to the first: the book is very legalistic and, perhaps more troubling, somewhat isolationist in its approach. In the Introduction the author outlines his concerns:

The powers that be have clearly decided that the legislation is required in order to ensure justice and community cohesion. I hope they are right but I fear that they are wrong and that the legislation will fall victim to the law of unintended consequences, creating division rather than curing it. Race discrimination law has, in the main, tried to make people colour blind and to minimise differences between citizens. Religious discrimination law, by contrast, has the potential to make people emphasise their differences and to demand that their needs be given special attention. If that happens, then it is likely to lead to more division in society rather than more cohesion; however, only time will tell.7


Having set this up as a problematic, the book does not investigate or demonstrate its validity as a proposition. It does not analyse or explain the manner or extent to which the laws do or don’t divide the community. It is not clear why Addison thinks the laws will be divisive. The book does not have a conclusion that returns to these themes. This is a shame, because the proposition has great political and legal significance. It may well be that time will indeed tell what happens, but by engaging with these issues it might be possible to shape what happens as time passes.


This problem is compounded by the fact the book does not situate itself within the literature in the field. To some extent, this probably reflects the practitioner background of the author – Addison is a barrister and former Senior Crown Prosecutor – but it is, nonetheless, a problem because it closes off the possibility of exploring the premises on which his conceptual framework rests and, indeed, defending the point of examining religion as a connecting theme of discrimination and hatred. For instance, the book rests on particular conceptions of religion and race:

Race is fixed but religion is changeable…[ T]here are no degrees of race which an individual can alter or choose for themselves, but with religion choice does exist…8


It is this, says Addison, that makes religious discrimination and hatred worthy of attention as a set of discrete and connected laws. But the premises seem to require some critical consideration if the potential or actual divisive effects of the laws are to be established. There is an extensive body of literature that might be drawn on to investigate the concepts being dealt with.9Unfortunately, Addison makes no reference at all to the literature in the field, as indicated by the absence of a bibliography. The preference is instead for an analysis that is disconnected from the scholarship in the field. The ‘purely personal definition’ of religion that he suggests10may have much to commend it, but it is a definition that one would more readily accept were it located not merely in the context of the judicial, parliamentary and dictionary definitions, but within the scholarship in the field and given some thorough, critical support and defence. Even within the legal discussion that constitutes the bulk of the book, there is no reference to the literature on discrimination law or racial or religious hatred.11This aspect of the work is the main shortcoming of the book because, ultimately, it makes it difficult for Addison to achieve his objectives.


Religious Discrimination and Hatred Law is a starting point for a discussion of religious discrimination and hatred in a way that conceives of these as connected phenomena – and, let there be no doubt, it is a valuable starting point – but to achieve the aims that Addison rightly identifies as being of great importance it might be better to read the work alongside the depth and breadth of interdisciplinary scholarship in law and religion.

Lawrence McNamara, Reader in Law, School of Law, University of Reading

1 There are, of course, many other ways that the tensions of faith and secularism play out in Britain. The recent unsuccessful complaint that the satirical comedy Jerry Springer: The Opera, playing in London theatres, constituted blasphemy is a case in point: see The Queen (on the application of Stephen Green) v The City of Westminster Magistrates’? Court [2007] EWHC 2785 (Admin).

2 Neil Addison, Religious Discrimination and Religious Hatred Laws (2007) xxiii.

3 Ibid 75-86. It might, however, be thought that these could have more fruitfully been placed in the appendices.

4 Ibid 9 cf 30; 113 cf 118.

5 Ibid 30-31; 66-68.

6 Ibid 214-215.

7 Ibid xxiv (emphasis in original).

8 Ibid.

9 Among the many, one might look at: Catriona McKinnon & Dario Castiglione, The Culture of Toleration in Diverse Societies: Reasonable Tolerance (2003); David Mason, Race and Ethnicity in Modern Britain, 2nd Ed (2000); David Goldberg, Racist Culture: Philosophy and the Politics of Meaning (1993); Michael Banton, The Idea of Race (1977).

10 Addison, above n 2, 4.

11 For example: Kay Goodall, ‘Incitement to Religious Hatred: All Talk and No Substance’? (2007) 70 Modern Law Review 89; Marci Hamilton, God vs The Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law (2005); Report of the Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales, Volume 1, House of Lords, 2003; David Nash, Blasphemy in Modern Britain: 1789 to the Present (1999); Lawrence Levy, Blasphemy: Verbal Offences Against the Sacred, from Moses to Salman Rushdie (1993); Mari Matsuda, ‘ Public Response to Racist Speech: Considering the Victim’s Story’ (1989) 87 Michigan Law Review 2320.

McNamara, Lawrence, "Religious Discrimination and Hatred Law by Neil Addison", ISSN 1748-944X, June 2008 <>