Philosophical belief discrimination: are anti-Zionist beliefs protected?

10th April 2024 3 min read Chris McAvoy

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate against someone because of their religion or belief.

The Employment Tribunals have been put to task in recent years in determining whether the law affords protection to individuals holding a wide range of philosophical beliefs. These have included a belief in climate change, ethical veganism and the sanctity of life (extending to a fervent anti-fox hunting and anti-hare coursing).  

Miller v The University of Bristol

The recent Employment Tribunal decision in the case of Miller v The University of Bristol (UoB) demonstrates that beliefs may be protected in law even where they might be offensive to others.

Miller held anti-Zionist beliefs. He defined Zionism as an ideology that asserts that a state for Jewish people ought to be established and maintained in the territory that formerly comprised the British Mandate of Palestine and considered the same to be inherently racist, imperialist and colonial. He considered Zionism to be offensive to human dignity. 

Miller was dismissed by UoB because of anti-Zionist comments published and made by him. During a public event called “Building the Campaign for Free Speech,” Miller linked Jewish student groups in the UK to political agendas aligned with Israel as part of critiquing Zionism. This led to Miller being described as an “utterly vile antisemite”. Subsequently, Miller published an article in the Electronic Intifada entitled “We must resist Israel’s war on British universities”. This and subsequent other comments led to the UoB receiving a significant number of complaints. 

Is anti-Zionism a philosophical belief?

The first question that the Tribunal had to decide was whether Miller’s anti-Zionist beliefs qualified as a philosophical belief. 

In assessing this, the Tribunal took into consideration the well-known guidance from Grainger Plc v Nicholson which states that, for a belief to be a philosophical belief, it must be:

  1. Genuinely held;
  2. Not be an opinion or viewpoint; 
  3. A belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour; 
  4. Able to attain a certain degree of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
  5. Worthy of respect in a democratic society and not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

The Tribunal observed that, whilst there were strong opposing beliefs and opinions to those held by Miller, in applying guidance from the above-mentioned case, they held that Miller’s beliefs were protected. They made the point that it’s not for the Tribunal to inquire into the validity of the belief when forming this assessment.

It followed that because it was the comments themselves which led to the dismissal, the UoB’s decision to dismiss Miller was an act of direct discrimination because of Miller’s beliefs. It was also held to be unfair.

The Tribunal did, nevertheless, identify that Miller’s conduct was ill-judged and provocative by nature. This was particularly relevant to the question of remedy. The Tribunal held that any compensation awarded to Miller would be reduced by 50% owing to Miller’s contributory conduct.

We can help

If you are an employee with concerns that your employer is discriminating against you because of your religion or belief, or if you’re an employer with concerns about how one of your employees is expressing their beliefs, please get in touch with us here at People Legal.

We are trained and experienced in handling all matters of employment law and can provide you with the information you need. We can also provide tailored training on equal opportunities.

Call us on 0800 368 8470 or arrange a chat at for free initial advice. Please note the information contained in this briefing is intended as a general review of the subject featured and is not a substitute for obtaining specific legal advice.