Religious discrimination includes distinctions made on the basis of expression of religious beliefs or membership in a religious group. This also includes discrimination against people who do not ascribe to a particular religious belief or are atheists.
Courts have had difficulties defining the term ‘religion’ due to the absence of a universally satisfying definition of the term. The following features were provided by the High Court as helpful but not determinative aids in deciding whether a particular collection of ideas and/or practices should objectively be characterised as ‘a religion’:
- the particular collection of ideas and/or practices involves belief in the supernatural, i.e. belief that reality extends beyond that which is capable of perception by the senses
- the ideas relate to man’s nature and place in the universe and relation to things supernatural
- the ideas are accepted by adherents as requiring or encouraging them to observe particular standards or codes of conduct or to participate in specific practices having supernatural significance
- however loosely knit and varying in beliefs and practices adherents may be, they constitute an identifiable group or identifiable groups, and
- the adherents themselves see the collection of ideas and/or practices as constituting a religion.
Although discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs is not permitted, there may be legitimate bases for imposing requirements in the workplace which restrict the worker’s freedom to practice a particular religion, such as:
- a religion may prohibit work on a day on which the employer usually operates
- a religion may require a special type of clothing which may not be compatible with safety equipment
- a religion may prescribe dietary restrictions or daily routines during work hours which may be difficult for the establishment to fully accommodate, or
- an employment position may require an oath incompatible with a religious belief or practice.