Saying your religion is ‘Freedom’ on the census won’t make it a recognised belief

19 March 2021
What was claimed

If more than 250,000 people write ‘FREEDOM’ in response to a question about religion on the 2021 census it will become a recognised belief system.

Our verdict

This is incorrect. There is no specific number people have to reach to get a census output. To add a new protected characteristic to the Equality Act 2010 you have to bring a legal claim and win in a court of employment tribunal.

Some social media posts shared hundreds of times claim that if more than 250,000 people respond to a question about religious belief on the 2021 census with the answer “FREEDOM”, it will become a “recognised belief system” or “recognised UK belief”. 

This is incorrect. The number of respondents writing the same answer has no effect on how a belief is recognised by the government. 

What is being suggested?

One of the posts, written by Save Our Rights UK and shared on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Telegram, calls on people to write “FREEDOM” in answer to a question on the 2021 census, which officially takes place in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, on Sunday, 21 March. 

It goes on to claim: “If over 250k people put the same thing in that box [about religion] on the census then it becomes a recognised belief system and to ask us to do something that goes against it could be a crime under the Equalities Act 2010.”

The post continues: “It could help us in future with immunity passports, mandations and so on. It is of course no guarantee and may need to be fought in court at least once to get the full benefit of the protection it could offer.”

What is special about 250,000? 

It is not true that a group of 250,000 people giving the same answer on the census automatically becomes a “recognised belief system”. It is not even true that they would automatically be reported as a “census output”, which is a statistic produced afterwards by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in England and Wales.

Full Fact asked the ONS about this. It told us: “There is no specific number people have to reach to get a census output. 

“The populations to be included in the scope of our outputs will take account of user needs identified in that consultation, alongside the need to ensure that outputs remain ‘non-disclosive’ (meaning that the information cannot be used to identify individuals).”

If Save Our Rights UK are to successfully identify “FREEDOM” as a new belief stated in the census, they will then have to go to what the ONS calls a stakeholder outputs consultation later this year. 

How do belief systems get legal rights? 

Under the Equality Act 2010 it is unlawful to discriminate against someone because they do or don’t belong to a particular religion, or do or don’t hold a particular philosophical belief. 

Full Fact asked the Government Equalities Office (GEO) how these beliefs are legally established. 

A Government Equality Hub spokesperson told us: “To add anything to a protected characteristic or a completely new one to the Equality Act 2010 you have to bring a legal claim and win in a court of employment tribunal. 

“The criteria applied by courts for deciding whether a belief qualifies for protection are 

  • the belief must be genuinely held
  • it must be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available
  • it must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  • it must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
  • it must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others
  • it must "have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief.

“However, it need not ‘allude to a fully-fledged system of thought’; in other words, it does not need to be an ‘-ism’, and it need not be shared by others.” 

We emailed Save Our Rights UK to ask for the sources behind their claim, but did not receive a response. 

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as partly false because it is incorrect that a belief system can become recognised just based on the number of people responding to the census.

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