'Creed' is a 'protected characteristic' with respect to discrimination or harassment, at least in some U.S. jurisdictions or for some private employers.

The Wikipedia article "Creed" defines it thus:

A creed (also confession, symbol, or statement of faith) is a statement of the shared beliefs of a religious community in the form of a fixed formula summarizing core tenets.

Does the legal definition, or any (if there are multiple) legal definitions, significantly differ from the above?

4 Answers 4


It appears to be a grey area and does not appear to have an explicit definition aside from religion in many jurisdictions. Even those jurisdictions that discuss a broader definition, seem to shy away from actually doing so. Note that this is only a cursory search and experts in various jurisdictions may come up with more detailed results.

This case seems to mean that it is a formal declaration of a recognized religion.

Creed Legal Definition

The word creed imports a formal declaration of religious belief. The word has no reference to benevolent, philanthropic or fraternal organizations, secret or otherwise, even though of a moral character. [Hammer v. State, 173 Ind. 199 (Ind. 1909)].

This site

Says that it appears to be based on religion, but shows that (in Tennessee at least) there is no specific case law on the matter.

Since the law has not yet established what “creed” means, as far as prohibiting employment discrimination on that basis, employers have little guidance in this area. If an employee presents a non-religious but sincerely held belief, will that be enough to be considered a “creed” by the courts? With only a gut feeling to go by, we think it likely that Tennessee courts will lean toward the view that “creed” and “religion” are synonymous terms; thus, veganism, for example, since it does not constitute a religious belief, would not be a protected group under the THRA. However, to play it safe, employers should refrain from passing judgment or making derogatory comments regarding an employee’s expressed beliefs.

The hard part will come when an employer is faced with a situation that may appear he is terminating an employee due to his creed. Sooner or later, the courts will be ruling in such cases. While we tend to think that Tennessee will decide that creed equals religion (for THRA purposes), the last time we checked, the courts were not giving us a vote on the question. So, employers, proceed with care!

Ontario Human Rights Commission

Various other cases have left open the possibility that non-religious belief may constitute a creed under the Code (as discussed below). Overall, the courts appear to be reluctant to offer any final, authoritative, definitive or closed definition of creed, preferring a more organic, analogical (“if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck”)[232] case-by-case assessment. This has yielded a variety of results. Courts and tribunals have recognized a wide variety of subjectively defined religious and spiritual beliefs within the meaning of creed under the Code and religion under the Charter, including:

Aboriginal spiritual practices,[233]
Hutterian Bretheren[235]
Practitioners of Falun Gong[237]
Members of the Worldwide Church of God[238]
Rocky Mountain Mystery School.[239]

There is nothing in the case law that would prohibit redefining “creed” more broadly and include secular ethical and moral beliefs. Therefore, the question of what should constitute a creed in terms of the right to be free from discrimination under the Ontario Code – in particular with respect to secular, moral or ethical beliefs – remains an open one. In fact, this is a central question being considered in the current creed policy update. At the same time, the courts have offered some guidelines around the outer limits of what they will recognize as meriting protection under the Code ground of creed (as discussed below)


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    This is a fantastic answer – thanks. I'm gratified to learn that others have noted the ambiguity of the term. Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 18:47
  • OHCR "Fact Sheet" "Pastafarianism is not a creed ." ! Commented Sep 3, 2021 at 16:31

I've seen another broad definition that might apply. The Deleware government says:

The word ‘creed’ comes from the Latin word that means “I believe.” A creed can be a formal doctrine, or system of beliefs, for a church or religious group. It also can be a philosophy or a set of personal beliefs and the practices and observances associated with those beliefs.” Companies, societies, and disciplines might also adopt a creed — as in a political creed, a national creed, or a management creed — that lays out a particular belief system or way of doing things. You do not need to support a particular belief or creed to be discriminated against because of it. Discrimination based on creed can include the perception of those beliefs by others, and the negative perception by others may be based on your clothing or hairstyle, jewelry you wear, a book you carry, or a symbol on a tee shirt.

Like street gangs, a creed is not restricted to just skin color, the colors of the clothing a person wears can be the basis of snap judgments about beliefs and affiliations (without actual evidence), can lead to violence, and the consequences can be fatal.

Consider the possible consequences of wearing a red MAGA hat while entering areas of Seattle or Portland where BLM and Black Block (Rose City Antifa) protestors are demonstrating or counter-protesting.

  • In the legal sense of the question, "creed" is restricted to beliefs about religion and not to beliefs generally.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Sep 2, 2021 at 17:51
  • I'd lay odds that a black man wearing BLM shirt walking through a Proud Boys and Oath Keepers protest would suffer significantly worse injuries than your MAGA hat wearer. Commented Sep 3, 2021 at 19:02

Legally, creed is a synonym of religion. To establish a difference in meaning it would be necessary to find a law that uses both terms and investigate why the law uses them both, but I have not found such a law. My search was not particularly comprehensive, but the laws that it found used only one word or the other. If you know of a law that uses both terms, please post a comment.

The term creed derives from the Latin credo, meaning I believe, because creeds typically start that way (for example, "I believe in the Great Pumpkin..."). The culture and laws of the United States, along with the English language, arose in explicitly Christian kingdoms (England and the UK, and, to a lesser extent France, with some influence from Spain), so it is instructive to consider the history of creeds in Christianity, in the sense of a statement of faith.

The Christian creeds are products of ecumenical conferences that fixed their texts for the purpose of establishing orthodoxy. This is small-O orthodoxy, meaning the set of beliefs that defines the religion. For example, the Nicene Creed was established to refute the theological doctrine of Arius. That is, the ecumenical council of Nicaea declared that someone who does not believe the things stated in the creed is not following the Christian religion.

Of course, that declaration doesn't stop someone with unorthodox beliefs from claiming to be a Christian. More generally, it is not uncommon for two religious groups to hold conflicting beliefs about their religion, and each may claim that adherents of the other are not "true believers" or indeed that they are not members of the same religion.

This brings us back to the use of "creed" to define protected characteristics. In this sense creed does not necessarily denote the statement of beliefs itself but rather the system of beliefs being stated. As mentioned in the thesis paragraph, a (fairly brief) search did not find a law that prohibits discrimination both on the basis of creed and of religion; the laws I found used only one term or the other. I suspect that creed could be used to underscore the fact that the law also protects against discrimination between different groups within the same religion. However, it is easy to argue that such discrimination is also based on religion, so, in the legal sense, creed is a synonym of religion.

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    Another answer references government info that distinguishes between 'creed' and 'religion', tho I agree that it seems like they're mostly synonymous, e.g. in other U.S. states. Commented Sep 3, 2021 at 15:32

The NYS constitution, Article 1, Section 11: "No person shall, because of race, color, creed or religion, be subjected to any discrimination in his or her civil rights..." Also "The New York State Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination on the basis of "age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, marital status or disability" in employment, housing, education, credit, and access to public accommodations." (The latter quote is from https://www1.nyc.gov/site/mopd/laws/state-laws.page )

Since the state does protect persons with respect to both creed and religion, there is an implied difference between the two. In these times of severe ideological division in the United States, when some institutions including universities engage in viewpoint discrimination, it's high time for the courts to protect human rights by clarifying the definition of creed.

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    This doesn't really help at defining 'creed' and your political polemic at the end of the answer isn't appropriate here on this site. Commented Jul 24, 2022 at 18:15
  • Interesting that NYS also seems to distinguish between "color" and "race", without providing a clear definition of either. (Or maybe they don't distinguish, but risk redundancy for the sake of completeness.) But as the previous comment says, this answer doesn't really answer the OP's question.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jul 25, 2022 at 10:46

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