To be considered as a religious claimant, the claimant must show there’s a well-founded fear of persecution based on the claimant’s religion.
Black’s Law Dictionary defines religion as “a system of faith and worship usually involving belief in a supreme being and usually containing a moral or ethical code; especially such a system recognized and practiced by a particular church, sect, or denomination.”1 In order to protect people’s freedom of practicing religion, “courts have interpreted the term religion broadly to include a wide variety of theistic and nontheistic beliefs.”2
There is no standard definition of “religion” in the international legal field. However the legal systems of different countries have attempted to define the term “religion”. The general trend is to define “religion” in the broader sense since a narrow definition could exclude minority religious groups and violate the principle of religious freedom in international human rights law. 3
A broad interpretation of “religion” not only includes traditional religions like Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, but also other belief systems (that might not be considered as traditional religion) that have a similar role to its believers (e.g. Falun Gong).
In Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada has defined “religion” as “a particular and comprehensive system of faith and worship; a belief in a divine, superhuman or controlling power; and/or a personal conviction or belief that fosters a connection with the divine or with the subject or object of that spiritual faith.4
In the United States, the Supreme Court has expanded the concept of religion to include beliefs that are not based on God and rejected the distinction between beliefs in traditional religions and pure personal beliefs.5 Belief in God or Supreme Being is no longer required for a belief to be a religion.
In the United Kingdom, the law does not give a standard definition of religion. The matter has been left to the judges to decide and has created inconsistent decisions regarding what is religion. In the 1980s, the court held that “two of the essential attributes of religion are faith and worship; faith in a god and worship of that god”6 ,and courts have used this definition to exclude any religion where there was no evidence of worship. However in recent years, the UK courts have followed the approach of the European Human Rights Court by defining religion in a broader sense, that religion is “one of the most vital elements that go to make up the identity of believers and their conception of life” and “a precious asset for atheists, agnostics, sceptics and the unconcerned.”7 The UK courts also confirmed that “freedom of religion protects the subjective belief of an individual.” 8
In Australia, the Court held that “… the criteria of religion [are] twofold: first, belief in a supernatural Being, Thing or Principle; and second, the acceptance of canons of conduct in order to give effect to that belief.”9
This website does not serve as legal counsel. For all legal questions, it is best to consult with a qualified lawyer.
1. Religion, Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019).
3.“Overview of the Court’s case-law on freedom of religion” (19 January 2011 and updated on 31 October 2013), online(pdf): European Court of Human Rights <https://www.echr.coe.int/documents/research_report_religion_eng.pdf
4. United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163 (1965)
5. Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem,  2 S.C.R. 551 at para 39.
6. Church of the New Faith v. Commissioner for Pay-Roll Tax (Vic)  HCA 40; (1983) 154 CLR 120 at para 17.
7. Re South Place Ethical Society, Barralet v AG  1 WLR 1565 at paras1571- 1572.
8. Kokkinakis v Greece App no 14307/88 (25 May 1993) at para 31.
9. R v. Secretary of State for Education and Employment and others (Respondents) ex parte Williamson(Appellant) and others UKHL 15  2 A.C. 246 at para 24.