The Law, Religion and the British Constitution

Prof. Julian Rivers
Professor of Jurisprudence, University of Bristol

In this paper I sketch the traditional constitutional position of religion in the United Kingdom by reference to distinctive conceptions of religious liberty, religious equality and religious establishment. I consider the thesis that after 1997 the constitution has come to reflect a stronger commitment to multiculturalism and suggest reasons for doubting, or at least modifying, that thesis. Instead, we should direct our attention to other changes such as the weakening of the connection between religion and conscience, the unwillingness to think of religions as normative (and, in some sense, legal) systems, and the growing regulation of religious public services. I suggest that secularism, rather than multiculturalism, is the stronger strand within recent legal developments and query whether religious liberty and equality can survive the trivialisation of religion implicit in such an agenda.