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Secularity can occur in degrees and can be hard to define, but as a minimum, secular states do not have a state religion. Countries with a state religion are shown coloured on the map. Those without are in grey.
A secular state is an idea pertaining to secularity, whereby a state is or purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion. A secular state also claims to treat all its citizens equally regardless of religion, and claims to avoid preferential treatment for a citizen from a particular religion/nonreligion over other religions/nonreligion.
Secular states do not have a state religion (e.g. an established religion) or an equivalent, although the absence of an established state religion does not necessarily imply that a state is fully secular or egalitarian in all respects. For example, many states that describe themselves as secular have religious references in their national anthems and flags, or laws which advantage one religion or another.
Origin and practice
Secular states become secular either upon creation of the state (e.g. the United States of America), or upon secularization of the state (e.g. France or Nepal). Movements for laïcité in France and for the separation of church and state in the United States defined modern concepts of secularism. Historically, the process of secularizing states typically involves granting religious freedom, disestablishing state religions, stopping public funds being used for a religion, freeing the legal system from religious control, freeing up the education system, tolerating citizens who change religion or abstain from religion, and allowing political leadership to come to power regardless of their religious beliefs.
In France, Italy and Spain for example, official holidays for the public administration tend to be Christian feast days. Any private school in France that contracts with Education Nationale gets the teachers salaried by the state, so most of the Catholic schools are in this situation and they are the majority because of history, but it's not an exclusive right and other religious or non-religious also schools can contract this way. In some European states where secularism confronts monoculturalistphilanthropy, some of the main Christian sects and sects of other religions depend on the state for some of the financial resources for their religious charities. It is common in corporate law and charity law to prohibit organized religion from using those funds to organize religious worship in a separate place of worship or for conversion; the religious body itself must provide the religious content, educated clergy and laypersons to exercise its own functions and may choose to devote part of their time to the separate charities. To that effect some of those charities establish secular organizations that manage part of or all of the donations from the main religious bodies.
Many states that are nowadays secular in practice may have legal vestiges of an earlier established religion. Secularism also has various guises which may coincide with some degree of official religiosity. In the United Kingdom, the head of state is still required to take the Coronation Oath enacted in 1688, swearing to maintain the Protestant Reformed religion and to preserve the established Church of England. The UK also maintains seats in the House of Lords for 26 senior clergymen of the Church of England, known as the Lords Spiritual. Italy is a secular state since 1985 but still recognize a special status to the Catholic Church. The reverse progression can also occur, however; a state can go from a secular state to a religious state, as in the case of Iran where the secularized state of the Pahlavi dynasty was replaced by an Islamic Republic (list below). Nonetheless, the last 250 years has seen a trend towards secularism.
List of self-described secular states by continent
Article 77 of the Constitution of Honduras states: "It guarantees the free exercise of all religions and cults without precedence, provided they do not contravene the laws and public order. The ministers of different religions, may not hold public office or engage in any form of political propaganda, on grounds of religion or using as a means to that end of the religious beliefs of the people."
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."[a] Although there are instances of the U.S. government making nominal references to religion,[b] the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that these are merely ceremonial and do not constitute a state establishment of religion.
Section 116 of the Constitution of Australia provides that "the Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.
Section 2 of Article IV of the Micronesian constitution provides that "no law may be passed respecting an establishment of religion or impairing the free exercise of religion, except that assistance may be provided to parochial schools for non-religious purposes."
According to Section 2 of the Constitution of Argentina, "The Federal Government supports the Roman Catholic Apostolic religion" but it does not stipulate an official state religion, nor a separation of church and state. In practice, however, the country is mostly secular, and there is no kind of persecution of people of other religions; they are completely accepted and even encouraged in their activities.
Although Article 3 of the El Salvadoran constitution states that "no restrictions shall be established that are based on differences of nationality, race, sex or religion", Article 26 states that the state recognizes the Catholic Church and gives it legal preference.
Georgia gives distinct recognition to the Georgian Orthodox Church in Article 9 of the Constitution of Georgia and through the Concordat of 2002. However, the Constitution also guarantees "absolute freedom of belief and religion". Georgian constitution also refers to God in preamble: "We, the citizens of Georgia - whose firm will... proclaim this Constitution before God and the nation."
Indonesia follows the principle Pancasila, where the first principle states "Belief in the One and Only God". There is no official state religion in Indonesia, but the state acknowledges Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Protestantism, and the Roman Catholic Church as the only official religions in the country. Because of this, the state does not acknowledge atheism as a religion and require each citizen to state their religion on their government ID cards. This led to discrimination towards citizens who refuse to identify with any of the official religions acknowledged by the government and often lead to blasphemy charges for condoning irreligion.
When the idea of modern political Zionism was introduced by Theodor Herzl, his idea was that Israel would be a secular state which would not be influenced at all by religion. When David Ben-Gurion founded the state of Israel, he put religious parties in government next to secular Jews in the same governing coalition. Many secular Israelis feel constrained by the religious sanctions imposed on them. Many businesses close on Shabbat, including many forms of public transportation, restaurants, and Israeli airline El Al. In order for a Jewish couple to be formally married in Israel, a couple has to be married by a rabbi. Jewish married couples can only be divorced by a rabbinical council. Many secular Israelis may go abroad to be married, often in Cyprus. Marriages officiated abroad are recognized as official marriages in Israel. Also, all food at army bases and in cafeterias of government buildings has to be kosher, even though the majority of Israelis do not follow these dietary laws. Many religious symbols have found their way into Israeli national symbols. For example, the flag of the country is similar to a tallit, or prayer shawl, with its blue stripes. The national coat of arms also displays the menorah. However, some viewpoints argue that these symbols can be interpreted as ethnic/cultural symbols too, and point out that many secular European nations (Sweden, Georgia, and Turkey) have religious symbols on their flags. Reports have considered Israel to be a secular state, and its definition as a "Jewish state" refers to the Jewish people, who include people with varying relations to the Jewish religion including non-believers, rather than to the Jewish religion itself.
Under the terms of its preamble, the Constitution of Kiribati is proclaimed by "the people of Kiribati, acknowledging God as the Almighty Father in whom we put trust". However, there is no established church or state religion, and article 11 of the Constitution protects each person's "freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to change his religion or belief", and freedom of public or private religious practice and education.
In Article 3 of the Constitution of Malaysia, Islam is stated as the official religion of the country: "Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation." In 1956, the Alliance party submitted a memorandum to the Reid Commission, which was responsible for drafting the Malayan constitution. The memorandum quoted: "The religion of Malaya shall be Islam. The observance of this principle shall not impose any disability on non-Muslim nationals professing and practicing their own religion and shall not imply that the state is not a secular state." The full text of the Memorandum was inserted into paragraph 169 of the Commission Report. This suggestion was later carried forward in the Federation of Malaya Constitutional Proposals 1957 (White Paper), specifically quoting in paragraph 57: "There has been included in the proposed Federal Constitution a declaration that Islam is the religion of the Federation. This will in no way affect the present position of the Federation as a secular State...." The Cobbold Commission also made another similar quote in 1962: "....we are agreed that Islam should be the national religion for the Federation. We are satisfied that the proposal in no way jeopardises freedom of religion in the Federation, which in effect would be secular." In December 1987, the Lord President of the Supreme Court, Salleh Abas described Malaysia as governed by "secular law" in a court ruling. In the early 1980s, then-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad implemented an official programme of Islamization, in which Islamic values and principles were introduced into public sector ethics, substantial financial support to the development of Islamic religious education, places of worship and the development of Islamic banking. The Malaysian government also made efforts to expand the powers of Islamic-based state statutory bodies such as the Tabung Haji, JAKIM (Department of Islamic development Malaysia) and National Fatwa Council. There has been much continued public debate on whether Malaysia is an Islamic or secular state.
Article 19 of the 2008 Myanmar constitution states that "The State recognizes the special position of Buddhism as the faith professed by the great majority of the citizens of the State." while Article 20 mentions "The State also recognizes Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Animism as the religions existing in the Union on the date on which the State Constitution comes into force." The government pursues a policy of religious pluralism and tolerance in the country, as stipulated in Article 21 of its constitution, "The State shall render assistance and protect as it possibly can the religions it recognizes." In 1956, the Burmese ambassador in Indonesia U Mya Sein quoted that "The Constitution of the Union of Burma provides for a Secular State although it endorses that Buddhism is professed by the majority (90 per cent) of the nation." While Buddhism is not a state religion in Myanmar, the government provides funding to state Universities to Buddhist monks, mandated the compulsory recital of Buddhist prayers in public schools and patronises the Buddhist clergy from time to time to rally popular support and political legitimization.
The Constitution of Nauru opens by stating that "the people of Nauru acknowledge God as the almighty and everlasting Lord and the giver of all good things". However, there is no state religion or established church, and article 11 of the Constitution protects each person's "right to freedom of conscience, thought and religion, including freedom to change his religion or beliefs and freedom", and right to practice his or her religion.
Nepal was the only Hindu monarchy in the world, but after adopting democracy in 2008, the country became secular, providing religious and cultural freedom while upholding Hinduism's special status. Shiva has been regarded as the guardian deity among Nepali Hindus. However, Hinduism has been considered as the official state religion of Nepal due to the wording of Constitution in this manner - "Secularism in Nepal means protection of Ancient religion called Sanatan Dharma, i.e. Hinduism." The state has adopted the cow as its national animal, which is a holy animal in Sanatan Dharma (Hinduism), and the government put a ban on cow slaughter, declaring it illegal. Conversion from one religion to another is prohibited according to Nepal's constitution and law.
Norway changed the wording of the constitution on May 21, 2012, to remove references to the state church. Until 2017, the Church of Norway was not a separate legal entity from the government. In 2017, it was disestablished and became a national church, a legally distinct entity from the state with special constitutional status. The King of Norway is required by the Constitution to be a member of the Church of Norway, and the church is regulated by a special canon law, unlike other religions.
The Romanian constitution declares freedom of religion, but all recognized religious denominations remain state-funded. Since 1992, these denominations have also maintained a monopoly on the sale of religious merchandise, which includes all candles except decorative candles and candles for marriage and baptism. It is currently illegal in Romania to sell cult candles without the approval of the Eastern Orthodox Church or of another religious denomination which employs candles (law 103/1992, appended O.U.G. nr.92/2000 to specify penalties). Romania recognizes 18 denominations/religions: various sects of the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, Protestantism and Neo-Protestantism (including Jehovah's Witnesses), Judaism and Sunni Islam. Unrecognized cults or denominations are not prohibited, however.
The Sri Lankan constitution does not cite a state religion. However, Article 9 of Chapter 2, which states "The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place, and accordingly, it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana" makes Sri Lanka an ambiguous state with respect to secularism. In 2004, Jathika Hela Urumaya proposed a constitutional amendment that would make a clear reference to Buddhism as the state religion, which was rejected by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka.
The Syrian constitution requires that the president to be a Muslim and Islamic jurisprudence to be a major source of legislation despite the governments of Bashar al-Assad and his father before him, Hafez al-Assad, being largely secular in practice.
Section 9 of the 2007 Thai constitution states that "The King is a Buddhist and Upholder of religions", and section 79 makes another related reference: "The State shall patronise and protect Buddhism as the religion observed by most Thais for a long period of time and other religions, promote good understanding and harmony among followers of all religions as well as encourage the application of religious principles to create virtue and develop the quality of life." The United States Department of State characterised that these provisions provides Buddhism as the de facto official religion of Thailand. There have been calls by Buddhists to make an explicit reference to Buddhism as the country's state religion, but the government has turned down these requests. Academics and legal experts have argued that Thailand is a secular state as provisions in its penal code are generally irreligious by nature.
The Constitution of Tonga opens by referring to "the will of God that man should be free". Article 6 provides that "the Sabbath Day shall be kept holy", and prohibits any "commercial undertaking" on that day. Article 5 provides: "All men are free to practice their religion and to worship God as they may deem fit in accordance with the dictates of their own worship consciences and to assemble for religious service in such places as they may appoint". There is no established church or state religion. Any preaching on public radio or television is required to be done "within the limits of the mainstream Christian tradition", though no specific religious denomination is favoured.
Parliament is opened with prayers, led by a Lords Spiritual member in the House of Lords and the Speaker's chaplain in the House of Commons.
The full term for the expression of the Crown's sovereignty via legislation is the Crown-in-Parliament under God. At the coronation, The sovereign is anointed with consecrated oil by the Archbishop of Canterbury in a service at Westminster Abbey and must swear to maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel, maintain Protestantism in the United Kingdom, specifically the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof as by established law in England.
^Although some U.S. states retain laws that would nominally prevent atheists from holding office (such as Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Texas), these laws are unenforcable as they were declared unconstitutional in the U.S. Supreme Court case Torcaso v. Watkins on the basis that they violated the first and fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
^[Sejdic and Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina (application nos. 27996/06 and 34836/06) found a violation of the non-discrimination overarching right vis-à-vis all other rights on a wider subject from often arbitrary funding of social charities viz. rights afforded by law Art. 1 of Prot. No. 12, namely protecting "any right set forth by law".[clarification needed][plain English please] The convention introduces a general prohibition of discrimination in legally enshrined state action, as well as where rights under the convention such as an education or health care are funded. A superior level of services supported by religious bodies is permitted.]
^"Socialist Constitution of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea". 2009. Archived from the original on 2010-05-19. Retrieved 2018. Article 68. Citizens shall have freedom of religion. This right shall be guaranteed by permitting the construction of religious buildings and the holding of religious ceremonies. Religion shall not be used in bringing in outside forces or in harming the state and social order.
^In Belgium, Article 20 of the Constitution provides: No one can be obliged to contribute in any way whatsoever to the acts and ceremonies of a religion, nor to observe the days of rest. "ICL - Belgium - Constitution". Retrieved 2015.
^A clause in Article 11 of Treaty of Tripoli between the U.S. and present-day Libya states that "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."
^Religion and the Secular State in Israel. Page 421-422: " Not every Jew, in Israel or elsewhere, is a religious individual. It is in collective terms that religion has been an essential ingredient in the self-definition and behavior of the Jews, believers or not, observant or not. For that reason, it was aptly stated that Judaism conceived of itself not as a denomination but as the religious dimension of the life of a people. Hence peoplehood is a religious fact in the Jewish universe of discourse. In its traditional self-understanding, Israel is related not to other denominations but to the ""nations of the world"... Israel"s... body is the body politic of a nation. a denomination but as the religious dimension of the life of a people. Hence peoplehood is a religious fact in the Jewish universe of discourse. In its traditional self-understanding, Israel is related not to other denominations but to the ""nations of the world"... Israel"s... body is the body politic of a nation". Page 423: "It seems reasonable to accept that the reference to Israel as a "Jewish State" is equivalent to stating that in historical, political, and legal terms, it is the state of the Jewish people". Page 424: "all refer to a Jewish state, and Jewish means, in all of them, pertaining to Jews, namely the individuals seeing themselves as composing the Jewish people, or nation, or community. It clearly does not mean the body of religious precepts, commands or convictions regulated by the Halakha, the Jewish religious law developed over centuries.".
^The birth of Malaysia: A reprint of the Report of the Commission of Enquiry, North Borneo and Sarawak, 1962 (Cobbold report) and the Report of the Inter-governmental Committee, (1962-I.G.C. report), p. 58