General Article Santa Claus, God and Lord Buddha: the difference between a belief and a religion

Topic Selected: Religion Book Volume: 358
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Jamie Buckland, University of York

My four year-old nephew and two year-old niece believe passionately in Santa Claus. In many ways they are like any religious people – they suspend the evidence of their eyes and ears for faith in a character they have never actually seen, but who they believe has special powers, based on stories they have been told that have been passed down through many generations. So, is a belief in Santa Claus a religion?

The question of what makes a religion is very topical. An employment tribunal is in the process of ruling on whether or not ethical veganism is a protected “philosophical belief” in the same way as a religion. Under the Equality Act of 2010, “philosophical beliefs” are “protected characteristics” – as a result, individuals cannot be lawfully discriminated against on the grounds of holding protected philosophical or religious beliefs.

Given the five criteria on which the Equality Act affords protection to philosoph...

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