Religious Discrimination

Religious discrimination can take quite diverse forms. Most commonly and intuitively, it is understood as denying or impeding the free expression or practice of one's religious convictions (where these religious behaviors do not violate civil and criminal law).

From a legal standpoint, religious harassment, understood either as being harassed by a religious group or being harassed as a religious group, may constitute a separate category of rights infringement or punishable behavior, in addition to or instead of any charge of discrimination.

Alternatively, religious discrimination can, despite non-interference with religious expression and practice, involve discrimination against those of a particular religious faith in the workplace, community, political arena, etc.-for example, refusing to hire someone of a particular faith, because of the tenets of that faith. In this instance, there is no infringement of freedom of religion; but there is unfair and unfavorable treatment in hiring, on the basis of a given religion.

Otherwise, allegations of religious discrimination are likely to be lodged whenever there is a conflict between cultural, societal, legal, moral, occupational or professional norms and religious practices, with outcomes strongly influenced by which takes precedence in a given jurisdiction.
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Religious discrimination; though less common than racial discrimination and gender discrimination, is yet a glaring fact in modern societies which prima facie advocate religious tolerance.

In most cases, people belonging to a minority religion in a particular arena are those who are discriminated against. Freedom of religion includes the freedom of people to freely practice religious rituals and express beliefs (that do not violate existing secular laws).

When other norms and religious norms collide, there is a high likelihood that there will be allegations of religious discrimination or of religion-supported discrimination. An Ontario, Canada high school triggered a strong backlash by allowing weekend on-campus Muslim services that sorted and segregated young girls on the basis of their current menstrual status, in apparent contravention of Ontario Education Act and the District's own gender equity policy. (At the time, even the Muslim Canadian Congress added its condemnation of the practice and threatened legal action against it.)

Allowing the associated invasive and embarrassing questioning and segregation appeared to permit discrimination by a religious group; denying it would have predictably triggered protests of discrimination against the same religious group.

Other, sometimes paradoxical, forms of religious discrimination can be found. The University of California at Davis has defined (and been challenged for defining) "Religious/Spiritual Discrimination" religious discrimination as "the loss of power and privilege to those who do not practice the dominant culture's religion. In the United States, this is institutionalized oppressions toward those who are not Christian."

Critics insist that this discriminates against Christians by ruling out any possibility of discrimination against Christians. These critics maintain that, ironically, in attempting to afford protection from religious discrimination, UC Davis has institutionalized it.

A more complex and less clear-cut instance is that in which a claim of religious discrimination is made on the basis of dis-allowance in the workplace, high-security environments, etc., of some visible feature or practice associated with a specific religion, e.g., turbans in hospital operating rooms or burqas in passport photos. This is not discrimination against the religion per se; rather, it is a conflict of societal, cultural and professional norms, like that in the case of the school classes above, that may require case-by-case resolution.

Finally, adherents of a specific faith may allege religious discrimination against them if their beliefs are not formally recognized as constituting a religion, e.g., if a "Vegans for God" organization sought, but was refused, tax-exempt status as a religious charity.