“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that”. This famous quote by Bill Shankly is certainly a sentiment the claimant in this case, a life-long Rangers fan, would identify with.
Like Shankly, the claimant in this case was a fellow Scot. But unlike Shankly, who breached the sectarian divide in Glasgow between Celtic and Rangers, Mr McClung’s case rested on his fanaticism for Rangers Football Club and its loyalty to the United Kingdom and the Queen.
It is due to his support Rangers Football Club that Mr McClung believes he was denied work by his Celtic supporting manager while working as a subcontractor. He subsequently brought claims forward for unfair dismissal and discrimination.
Let’s take a deep dive into this case and see what conclusion the court came to.
To echo the words of Shankly, Mr McClung argued that supporting Rangers was a way of life and that it was as important for him as it was for religious people to go to church.
The claimant described Rangers fans as caring passionately about the Queen and having loyalty to Northern Ireland and the UK at large. Rangers and Celtic represent the sectarian divide of Protestants and Catholics which can be found in Scotland’s most populous city, Glasgow.
The employment tribunal decision in this case concerns the question of whether Mr McClung’s support of Rangers could qualify as a protected belief under the Equality Act 2010.
The Equality Act 2010
Section 10 of the Equality Act refers to the following:
(1) Religion means any religion and a reference to religion includes a reference to a lack of religion.
(2) Belief means any religious or philosophical belief and a reference to belief includes a reference to a lack of belief.
(3) In relation to the protected characteristic of religion or belief—
(a) a reference to a person who has a particular protected characteristic is a reference to a person of a particular religion or belief;
(b) a reference to persons who share a protected characteristic is a reference to persons who are of the same religion or belief.
The 2010 Act does not actually define what a “philosophical belief” is, however the Explanatory notes to the Equality Act sets out that for a philosophical belief to be protected under the Act:
- it must be genuinely held;
- it must be a belief and 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
- it must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and
- it must be worthy or respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with
human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.”
The claimant put forward the argument that due to his strong Unionist views, allegiance to the Queen, and protestant views, views he claims the “vast majority of Rangers fans” hold, his support of Rangers qualified as a philosophical belief.
This was dismissed by the judge for a number of reasons, who considered the 5 components of the Grainger criteria during his dismissal. While they conceded that the claimant’s support of Rangers was genuine, for the second criteria they drew comparisons between supporting Rangers and being an active member or support for a political party, which had been dismissed in previous cases as constituting a philosophical belief.
The word ‘support’ contrasts with the word ‘belief’, which the judge defined as “an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof” or “an acceptance one accepts as true or real; a firmly held opinion”. It is for this reason that the judge found a comparison between support for a football club and support for a political party.
The third aspect of the Grainger criteria concerns whether the belief is a “weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour”. In this aspect, the claimant made reference to the Casamitjana case where it was decided that ethical veganism met all five of the Grainger criteria. Ethical veganism was therefore found to be eligible for protection under the Equality Act.
However, in this case it was found that ethnical veganism was a belief rooted in morality and prevalent in all aspects of the employee’s life. In contrast, the judge found that support for a football club was akin to a lifestyle choice rather than relating to a “substantial aspect of human life and behaviour”. The judge therefore found that the claimant did not satisfy the third criterion.
The penultimate criterion was that the belief must attain a “certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.” While the claimant’s support of Rangers was a serious and important matter to him, and he displayed support for the Union and loyalty to the Queen, the judge found that these factors were not prerequisites. Not all fans would support these factors. The judge decided that beyond a desire for the team to do well/win, support for Rangers has no larger consequences for humanity as a whole. The claimant therefore did not satisfy the fourth criterion.
Finally, the belief must be “worthy of respect in a democratic society, be not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with fundamental rights of others.” While the judge found the claimant’s support for Rangers was worthy of respect, the judge was not persuaded that it invoked the same respect in a democratic society as ethical veganism or the governance of a country.” He therefore did not satisfy the fifth criterion either.
With four out of the five criterions dismissed by the judge, the conclusion was that supporting a football team was clearly not a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. As a result, this cannot be relied upon when it comes to claiming discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.
The judgement which the judge came to through the usage of the Grainger criteria was well thought out and applicable in this case. For something to be a protected characteristic, there must be significant evidence that it constitutes a philosophical belief under Section 10 of the Equality Act 2010.
Ironically, support of a club like Rangers probably comes closest to this, owing to its significant links to the sectarian divide in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is possible that another judge may therefore have been more sympathetic to the view put forward by the claimant in this case. However, for now at least, support for a football club is not a protected philosophical belief in the United Kingdom.
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