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Religion or Belief: Resources & Support

What is the meaning of religion or belief? 

The Equality Act does not provide a definition for “religion.” However, the courts have interpreted religion as necessarily identifiable and consisting of a clear structure and belief system.  

The Act therefore protects religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism, as well as others such as Baha'i, Jainism, Rastafarianism and Zoroastrianism. A religion need not to be mainstream or well known to be protected under the Act.   

Definitionally, ‘belief’ does not require faith or worship of god or gods. Although, it must influence a person’s way of life or how they perceive the world.  

For a philosophical belief to be protected under the Act it must:  

  • Be genuinely held
  • Be a belief and not just an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available
  • Be about a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  • Attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion, and importance
  • Be worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not in conflict with fundamental rights of others. For example, Holocaust denial, or the belief in racial superiority are not protected.
  • Beliefs such as humanism, pacifism, vegetarianism, and the belief in man-made climate change are all protected.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone because of religion or belief, or because of a lack of religion or belief.  

Our aim is to ensure that everyone regardless of their religion can thrive during their time at St Mary’s. We have a range of policies, activities, and resources in place to support this aim.

Any student or member of staff who has been affected by discrimination, bullying, harassment, violence, or hate crime is encouraged to visit our Report & Support pages for staff and for students for detailed information about their options.

The following resources have been curated in relation to Religion or Belief - a protected characteristic under Equality Act 2010.

University's Statement on Antisemitism

Sadly, someone's religion or belief can be the reason for hate crime. According to Home Office Hate Crime Report, across the UK, hate crimes have increased by 3% (to 8,566 offences) from 2018-19. Although this rise is partly driven by improvements in crime recording by the police, there have been spikes in hate crime following certain events such as the EU Referendum and the terrorist attacks in 2017. 

St Mary's University was founded in 1850 by the Catholic Poor Schools Committee to meet the need for teachers to provide an education for the growing number of poor Catholic children, and as such is acknowledged to be the oldest Roman Catholic university in the UK. St Mary's also has a beautiful chapel on campus, which is open to all students, regardless of their religion or beliefs.  

Many staff and students are proud of St Mary's history and origins, but this does not mean we prioritize Catholic students over others. What is does mean is that our values of inclusivity, excellence, respect, and generosity of spirit are especially important to us.  

Whilst we offer a small number of specific courses which focus on Catholicism, we offer a full range of other degree programmes, just like all other universities, which do not refer to Catholicism or religion at all. We also have clubs and societies, support networks and events which are dedicated to other religions and beliefs. We have a long-term commitment to equality and diversity, we recognize and acknowledge the different religions and beliefs that are held by students and staff, we value all of them and we celebrate the richness and variety that this brings to our community.  

St Mary's does not tolerate discrimination of any kind based on religion and belief; instead, we encourage freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. 


Religion or belief discrimination is for one to be treated differently or less favourably due to their religion or belief. Crucially, religion or belief discrimination does not have to be intentional to be unlawful.  

Discrimination of any kind based on religion or belief is prohibited under Equality Act 2010 and is not tolerated at St Mary's. St Mary's has zero tolerance for religion or belief discrimination in our community. 

We invite students to wear clothing that embraces their culture and religion and we will do our best to facilitate this, wherever possible. There may be some specific teaching situations where health and safety regulations might make this a bit more complicated, but staff will do their best to negotiate a compromise.

Similarly, during sport and physical activities courses and SU sporting clubs and teams, head coverings such as hijabs and turbans will be respected appropriately as long as there is no conflict with safety regulations. If you have any specific questions or concerns about this, please don't hesitate to ask for a conversation with someone in the teaching team sports club or Students' Union.  

  • Join the St Mary's Catholic Society.
  • Join the Christian Union.
  • Join the First Love society.
  • Visit our Chapel, Meditation room, Islamic prayer room and Wellbeing spaces.
  • Seek support from a trained counsellor in our Student Wellbeing Service. 
  • Seek support from a member of our St Mary's Student Union student officer team. 
  • There is currently no students’ interfaith network, though we would be really happy to support you in setting one up! In the meantime, the staff Interfaith network runs many activities throughout the year in collaboration with students and which students can attend. If you are interested in getting involved or just finding out more St Mary's please contact Katharina Stegmann, Senior Widening Participation and Outreach Officer,